Connecting the Smart GridFollow article
Many of us are getting to grips with the Internet of Things (IoT). Whether we are controlling our homes from our smartphone or our refrigerator is ordering our shopping, the IoT is changing many aspects of modern life. The changes are not only being felt in the home. In fact, the true impact of IoT will be felt in the world of industry, where the way in which our goods are being made will alter forever.
The way in which machines are communicating allows manufacturers to be more responsive, reacting to changes in customer demands quickly and economically. However, whether in the home or in the factory, it is clear that information is the raw material of the future.
However, the impact of IoT is not limited only to information. A parallel revolution is underway in the energy sector. How we generate and distribute our energy is changing, only possible due to the machine-to-machine communications at the heart of the Internet of Things.
In conventional power networks, energy is generated in vast facilities. Traditional coal, gas or nuclear power stations benefit from the economies of scale. These huge installations feed energy into the distribution grid for transmission over high tension power cables, and the electricity is converted locally for use in homes and factories.
With mile after mile of above-ground power lines and substations to convert the energy into a usable voltage, the huge infrastructure required is costly and has a huge maintenance requirement. Despite the costs, for many years this was the most efficient method to provide power to a nation.
The impact of mankind on the environment has led many to look at alternative methods of creating energy. Governments and corporations are investing in renewable energy from a wide range of sources including hydroelectric and wind generation. However, the fundamental need for miles of cabling remains.
There is an alternative, as new sources of energy are becoming available that make local power generation viable. Instead of relying on a centralized structure of conventional power distribution, power plants can now be made that create power efficiently at a much smaller scale. These are known as distributed energy resources (DER) and are typically power plants of less than 10 megawatts capacity. In addition, many DERs use green energy sources rather than relying on fossil fuels. These include harnessing natural resources such as wind, solar and geothermal energy, but also include the latest techniques such as biomass-fueled power plants.
The power generated by DERs can be used to supplement the energy delivered by the traditional network. This requires that they are connected to the existing power grid. However, due to the variable output of some of these sources, the relationship between supply and demand can become complex.
At times of high energy production, these local generation systems can even trade excess power back to the traditional power grid. When it was created, the traditional infrastructure was not designed for two-way transmission of power, and there is a potential for damage to be caused by introducing power that was generated locally. As a consequence, any energy that is produced by DERs needs to be conditioned before it is injected back into the power grid.
Connecting the Smart Grid
The smart grid uses information collected by the Internet of Things to control a decentralized power generation network. It is designed to combine the output of traditional, large-scale power stations with energy generated locally by homes, businesses, or communities.
Using the same technology that allows refrigerators to talk to online grocery providers, the balance between the demands of the local consumer and the output of the power network can be managed automatically. The output of DERs can be controlled and synchronized with the supply of power from the power grid.
This is a fundamental change in the relationship between the supplier and consumer. Unlike the passive customers of the traditional power grid, paying for the power they use, in the smart grid consumers become active participants. Information is collected in real-time and shared with the network to allow the proper allocation of resources, and allowing DERs to play a major role in the balance of supply and demand.
In addition to the cost benefits that can be passed to the user, the impact of the network itself can be reduced. As they grow, communities or businesses can supplement their power needs with distributed generation, removing the need for new and costly infrastructure.
Smart Grid Solutions
There are new challenges presented by the smart grid. As the network becomes intelligent, connectors are needed that can securely transfer data whilst resisting the harsh conditions experienced by equipment that is often installed in the outdoors. This places high-speed connectors into environments for which they were not originally designed.
The Molex Brad range of industrial circular connectors uses the familiar and widely-adopted M12 format. The Micro-Change® range of M12 circular hybrid connectorsis designed to combine the functions of a Cat-5e Ethernet connection with 4 DC power contacts capable of up to 6 Amps per circuit. Mounted inside a secure shell with sealing to IP67, this is a reliable connector that can provide power and data for equipment destined for outdoor use.
Solar power generation is becoming ever-more common. Whether installed in a domestic setting or in the large number of solar farms that are popping up, the solar power connector is a vital part of the smart grid. The SOLARLOK PV connector series from TE Connectivityis designed for the latest generation of thin-film and crystalline solar panels. Sealed to IP68, they provide a fit-and-forget solution for large solar arrays that will generate power to the smart grid for years to come.
The smart grid delivers an environmentally friendly solution to the power demands of tomorrow’s cities and industry. Using a mix of power sources both large and small will allow us to generate power more efficiently for future demands whilst minimising the need for new infrastructure. By linking the consumer and the producer in a unified network, supply can be matched to demand in real-time. Connecting this new network will require innovative and flexible solutions. Trust RS Components and DesignSpark to stay up to date with the latest developments.