Designing for the Smart Grid at the Smart Grid Electronics Forum

October 20, 2010 by Jeff Shepard

Communications, protection from lightning, accurate power measurements, security considerations and designing for tomorrow’s smart home were among the many topics discussed in detail at the Smart Grid Electronics Forum. Speakers represented a broad array of organizations including Boeing, Semitech Semiconductor, Phoenix Contact, ADD Semiconductor, Intel and Pulse Engineering.

In the opening session, Boeing’s Ron Sackman discussed the "High Assurance Smart Grid: Smart Grid Control Systems Communications Architecture." He concluded that high-assurance smart grid solutions require the best possible security and reliability, achieved by integrating utility applications and control systems with cyber and physical security solutions and with power and aerospace control systems engineering.

Later in the same session Eddie Luaces from ADD Semiconductor reviewed current and future AMI solutions for "Connecting the Smart Grid Through the Last Mile and Beyond." He observed that new wired and wireless communications standards for smart meters are still appearing and that a billion smart meters will already be deployed by the end of this year. LDR NB-PLC (low data rate, narrow band power line communications) is one of the newest standards that is beginning to appear in a growing number of Smart Meters as a compliment to the various wireless standards.

NB-PLC was also the subject of a talk on "Enhancing Reliability in Medium Voltage Power Line Communications" by Matt Rhoades with Semitech Semiconductor. This includes connecting smart meters, smart grid monitors and street lighting. Noise and variations in equipment and standards make communications over the power grid difficult. Rhoades claims that for reliable, interoperable communication a new approach is needed. According to him, using the OFDM enhanced with multiple access solves these problems by significantly enhancing data throughput and communications reliability – when part of the carrier frequency spectrum is blocked by either noise or attenuation.

"AC Current Sensing for Smart Meters and Distribution Equipment," was the focus of Bruce Hamilton from Pulse Engineering. He presented a new alternative based on a Rogowski Coil technology that provides improved linearity, a 5 decade dynamic range, reduced cost, high galvanic isolation, and thermal stability over a wide range. The new device meets the ANSI (and IEC) static meter requirements with significant design margin.

As equipment is increasingly deployed in the transmission and distribution network, lightning protection will become important. "Overvoltage and Lightning Mitigation in Smart Grid Networks" was the focus of a presentation by Mark Nager from Phoenix Contact. He discussed the needs of the communications hardware used to connect smart meters to the rest of the grid. His conclusion was that many of the solutions have already been developed for other applications such as wind turbines and communications towers and smart grid designers need to look for existing solutions instead of reinventing "new" ones.

Representing Intel and the EMerge Alliance, Guy AlLee looked "Beyond the Smart Grid: the Enernet and Personal Energy." He believes that society is at the largest inflection point since the inventions of the cell phone, the personal computer and the internet. It is Intel’s intent "to do for energy what we did for computing." Through a combination of open standards for energy management and the adoption of dc power distribution in buildings, the electricity grid in the U.S. is expected to be completely transformed by 2030.

Intel is strongly focused on the edge of the electricity distribution network and expects to enable up to 10 intelligent devices in a billion homes by that point in time. The benefits will include significant improvements in energy efficiency, accommodation of distributed generation resources, and increased security, resiliency and sustainability.