Low-power analog, mixed-signal, and RF building blocks are needed to tranform the power-grid plans into reality
There is a great deal of excitement surrounding the smart grid roll-out happening worldwide as it promises to make the delivery of electricity more efficient, reliable, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective. Governments around the world are investing is smart grid deployments. For example, the U.S. government has earmarked $4.5 billion, while in China, a 4 trillion yuan ($596 billion) smart grid investment is underway.
Since electrical grids and electrical consumption differ by region, the adopted smart grid communication technologies vary around the world. In the United States, for example, wireless technology is dominating and utilities are seeking to standardize their communication solutions across electric, water, and gas meters as well as various devices inside the home, including thermostats, appliances, and HVAC systems.
The common need for these various communication points is low-power, robust communication. With this in place, utilities and consumers can both monitor and adjust electrical consumption behaviors. For example, during peak-demand hours, the delay of non-critical consumption activities such as pool pumps or laundry reduces the burden on the grid. Voluntary programs allowing utilities to adjust thermostat settings achieve valuable energy savings with no noticeable impact on consumers. The key requirement in these applications is that communication links be established from the utility to the meter and to various devices within the home.
The biggest challenge is to minimize the power consumption of communications devices while ensuring that robust, responsive communications occur when required. Energy meters are often placed in challenging locations (such as basements) and can be subject to interference from vehicles driving by and other transmitting sources of RF energy. These challenges are solved by close collaboration between providers of communication devices (RF transceivers, processors, for example), providers of communication software, and designers of communication systems. Only by obtaining a deep understanding of the communication environment, the communication objectives, and the relevant trade-offs and constraints, can optimal solutions be developed.
Collaboration between technology suppliers and designers is critical to a successful system in order to capitalize on all the technologies that support and enhance smart grid applications. For example, smart grid technology developers look to a wide range of advanced digital and analog signal-processing technology to power next-generation energy infrastructure, including innovative energy-metering ICs, radio-frequency transceivers, and power-line monitoring data converters. It takes a full set of functional blocks to build a complete, viable system:
- New energy-metering ICs enable designers to improve the accuracy and performance of commercial, industrial, and residential smart meters.
- Short-range RF transceivers offer designers a low-power, high-performance transceiver designed for operation in the license-free ISM bands at 433 MHz, 868 MHz, and 915 MHz.
- Simultaneous-sampling analog-to-digital converters provide the resolution and performance needed for next-generation power-line-monitoring systems.
By leveraging integrated circuits optimized for a range of smart grid applications, from energy metering solutions to dynamic, grid-integrated management and communication systems, today's developers are able to design intelligent systems that promote energy efficiency and management flexibility.
New communication capabilities being installed in the grid will enable demand-shifting away from peak to off-peak hours, thereby making better use of utilities' existing infrastructure and also lowering costs for customers. Such capabilities, coupled with advanced sensing technologies, will give utilities greater visibility into the operation of their grid and allow them to better control quality, prevent blackouts, and respond more quickly to disturbances.
These improvements in grid management are necessary to accommodate renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind where the generation profile of electricity is unpredictable and sources of such energy may be distributed in many locations across the grid.
About the author
is Energy Group director for Analog Devices, Inc.
(ADI), where he is responsible for addressing the growing technology needs in the smart grid and related areas. He works closely with customers to address requirements for metering, substation automation, and emerging applications such as solar/wind generation, energy storage, and others.
Ronn has been with Analog Devices for 14 years and, prior to this, spent fifteen years at Raytheon Company holding various positions in engineering, program management, and marketing. He received a BSEE from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1984, an MSEE from the University of Southern California in 1986, and an MBA from Northeastern University in 1997. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org