£9.5 Million SiC Initiative to Improve Electric Grid Efficiency

May 10, 2015 by Jeff Shepard

Schneider Electric UK has announced its participation in a £9.5 million government initiative to modernize the UK energy infrastructure to cope with the unprecedented change in energy consumption, generation and distribution. Innovate UK, the UK's innovation agency, is funding projects that drive innovative ways in how energy is supplied and used to address the energy trilemma of sustainability, security of supply and affordability.

This project, tested on Western Power Distribution’s residential network will look to increase the UK’s energy network capacity to tackle residential and commercial needs. Schneider Electric is joined by Western Power Distribution, Anvil Semiconductors, Turbo Power Systems, Aston University and Exception EMS in the design and delivery of this project.

Due to multiple factors in consumption, generation and storage, the UK’s energy network is set to become increasingly complex. By 2020 the UK is expected to have 10 million homes with solar panels and the number of electric vehicles sold will increase to 6.4 million by 2023. As a result the existing energy infrastructure, designed for a one way flow of energy, will have to deal with unprecedented patterns in network load. The challenge of integrating distributed power generation, with traditional larger scale energy generation presents new risks in terms of voltage control and predicting load and demand. Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) are facing significant challenges in modernizing existing infrastructure, and investing in smart technologies, to cope with this transformation.

The trial aims to deliver a dramatic increase in the capacity of our existing residential energy infrastructure, by increasing the local network voltage. This approach will allow the grid to simultaneously deliver different voltages for different requirements (i.e. charging an electric car and simultaniously providing a constant 240V for a residential building). This project will test the installation of high-performance power electronic converters (PECs) into the meter-box of individual properties. In order to achieve the required level of performance, efficiency, stability and sustainability at the cost demanded, these PECs will use innovative low cost silicon carbide (SiC) switching devices built using Anvil’s unique SiC-on–silicon technology.

Anvil was spun off in August 2010 from the University of Warwick's School of Engineering by its technology commercialization subsidiary Warwick Ventures Ltd in order to exploit patented developments in SiC power semiconductor technology. The firm's technology enables the growth of device-quality 3C-SiC epitaxy on 100mm silicon wafers to thicknesses that permit the fabrication of vertical power devices. The proprietary process is said to overcome mismatches in lattice parameter and thermal coefficient of expansion and can be readily migrated onto 150mm-diameter wafers (and potentially beyond) without modification and is therefore suitable for large industrial-scale applications.

“Silicon carbide switches have been prohibitively expensive to manufacture and deliver to UK homes and businesses. This project will look at how we can utilize highly innovative manufacturing techniques to break down the barriers and build these intelligent devices into the fabric of our energy infrastructure,” commented Barrie Cressey, Smart Grid Director at Schneider Electric UK. “There is some incredible work going on in the sustainability and energy space. It’s our mission to ensure consumers and businesses across Britain can benefit from the ground-breaking research and technical innovations that are happening in the energy industry.”