Just what the heck is this “smart grid” thing…

Blog Post created by andrewcifala Employee on Oct 30, 2017

Have you ever wanted to be more efficient? Not just turning the lights off when you leave a room to conserve electricity or xeriscaping your yard to save on water, but have you ever wanted to optimize everything around you in order to increase the effectiveness of tasks in everyday life?


I think about this all the time… in fact, it’s been somewhat of an obsession of mine for as long as I can remember. It’s the reason I cringe when people use search engines without strategically placed Boolean operators. It’s also why, in college, I designed and built a piezoelectric floorboard that turns the simple act of walking into an electricity generation system. And it’s the reason that today, I find myself daydreaming of a Tesla Roadster in my garage as its battery charges from the electricity generated by my solar roof, powering my home whenever a patch of clouds rolls overhead and harmoniously shaking hands with my utility provider whenever they need assistance in meeting peak demands (for a small fee, of course). With a buzz of my smart phone, I’ll know my Roadster is fully primed to hit the pavement and turn some heads while providing a complete summary of just how many gallons of gas and kilowatt-hours of electricity I won’t be purchasing this week thanks to its integrated home energy management system (HEMS).


I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of optimization and the role it plays in technology and innovation. This might be why I’ve become so captivated by the energy industry. Our world is currently undergoing the most impactful and expansive technological revolution since the internet, and it involves reimagining the concept of energy infrastructure as well as renovating arguably the largest and most complex machine known to mankind; the North American electric power grid. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’ve probably heard the phrase “smart grid” at some point in time. You’ve probably also found yourself thinking, ‘just what the heck is this “smart grid” thing?’ It’s a valid question, and one that is best answered by the underlying motive of today’s power and energy pioneers hellbent on maximizing the value of every last electron.


With this in mind, it makes sense that efficiency stands firmly in the spotlight of advanced power system research and development. But to fully understand the roles efficiency plays in the smart grid, it is important to think broadly about all the different factors contributing to the overall effectiveness of a power system. As technologists, it feels natural to strictly associate the word “efficiency” with the classical definition of “output-over-input.” However, when it comes to advanced power systems facilitative of the smart grid, the term “efficiency” has much greater meaning. An efficient power system is one that maximizes supply, optimizes transmission and distribution, manages consumption, mitigates faults and disturbances, promotes resiliency, guarantees safety, and ensures consistent availability.


Exemplifying this notion in practice are modern power conversion systems (PCS) such as advanced photovoltaic (PV) inverters, which are beginning to play an expanded role as the heart and brain of PV systems. The PV inverter acts as a controllable gateway for power flow. Through constant monitoring of system performance, digital communication with other entities, and embedded intelligence for autonomous decision-making, PV inverters can modify their behavior in response to their surroundings in order to increase the efficiency of the system as a whole. This can range from adapting its input characteristics to maximize power generation based on the intermittent supply from a PV array, to changing its output to rectify instabilities elsewhere the greater power network, or even optimizing power flow between devices according to commands from an external energy management system (EMS) designed to reduce the cost of electricity.


The very essence of the smart grid is that devices like power converters should be able to optimize not only their own functionality, but also the functionality of all the devices around them. It is not just about using less of a resource to get the same job done, but even more so about using a group of resources more intelligently to do the same job better. Therein lies the fundamental objective of the smart grid; to improve the overall efficiency of operation of a power network through optimizing the control and coordination of its various electronic devices in real-time. However, implementing such levels of interoperability is not an easy task, and the burden of creating, economizing, and deploying these advanced power systems falls on the shoulders of industry innovators. Test and measurement science is critical for developers of next-generation power products in which advanced functions focused on increasing efficiency must be validated under a wide range of volatile operating conditions and disparate system/device configurations. The ability to rapidly test these products’ performance and interoperability within a simulated power system environment is essential to accelerating the development and integration of smart grid technologies.


This is the first of a series of blogs discussing the different roles efficiency plays in the various technologies driving the formation of the smart grid. More importantly, we’ll be diving into the technological challenges engineers and innovators are facing as they work to develop the power systems of tomorrow and optimize the end-to-end efficiency of our future energy infrastructure; from generation-to-consumption and every step along the way.


While the likelihood of waking up to a fully-electric sports car in my garage seems farfetched to say the least, it is exciting to know that the technology in my Tesla daydream is inching closer to becoming a reality for everyone with each passing day.


About Keysight Automotive & Energy Solutions (AES)


The automotive and energy industries are synergistically paving the way for a future built on digital transformation and the electrification of everything. Engineers like you are pioneering this electrical revolution through the development of smarter, safer, and more efficient technologies; whether driving the latest advancements in communications for the Connected Car, creating new power electronics designs to facilitate renewable energy integration and vehicle electrification, or pressing forth in the quest to economize next-generation battery energy storage systems (BESS).


Keysight AES is committed to addressing the biggest design and test challenges faced by engineers in the automotive and energy industries. With fully-integrated solutions combining leading-edge hardware and ultra-sophisticated software, Keysight AES removes technological barriers and streamlines innovation, helping to bring your breakthroughs to market faster, cheaper, and easier. These range from powerful solar array simulator platforms for rapid optimization of modern photovoltaic (PV) system designs, to highly-efficient regenerative hybrid-electric/electric vehicle (HEV/EV) test systems for putting onboard power converters through their paces, and revolutionary battery performance characterization and high-volume Li-Ion cell production solutions for unprecedented savings of time and space; not forgetting advanced power circuit simulator tools to ensure seamless integration of new, state-of-the-art wide bandgap (WBG) devices.


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