Green power roundtable: Exploring green impacts of electrical distribution systems


Q: Have you seen the demand for electric vehicle charging stations increase?

Loucks: The demand for electric vehicle supply equipment has increased with grid-connected vehicle sales. With a range of innovative products and services, Eaton is helping to create the critical infrastructure for EV corridors, advance the aggressive early adoption of clean transportation, and reduce customers’ impact on the environment. Smart charging technology that manages the efficiency, availability, and reliability of power—especially during peak times and at popular charging locations—will provide more options to consumers and strengthen the charging infrastructure and the electrical grid. 

Powell: Yes, we have seen the demand increase, driven by two market dynamics:

  1. Increase in deployment of e-vehicle sales: Sales have nearly quadrupled in calendar year 2012 and there is no sales slowdown in sight.
  2. Energy-efficient/LEED certified/energy-conscious facilities: Building owners and operators are conscious about energy consumption and encourage employees and visitors to act in the same manner. 

Q: What tax incentives, rebates, or other incentives should engineers know about (to then pass on to their building owner clients)? 

Loucks: The energy-efficient commercial buildings deduction in 26 USC § 179D is expiring this year. However, legislation is being proposed to extend and expand the deduction. This law provides tax incentives for those buildings that use less energy than key ASHRAE industry standards. 

Powell: The DOE-sponsored DSIRE website provides information on incentives and policies that support renewables and energy efficiency in the U.S. by zip code and state. 

Smith: Many federal, state, and utility company programs can offset some of the cost of renewable energy systems through efficiency improvement incentives. Replacing older, less efficient energy conversion systems with modern, high efficiency systems can reduce utility power consumption and may qualify for rebates and incentives. These programs vary by state and utility provider and should be investigated accordingly. 

Q: How will the Smart Grid challenge electrical engineering design/specification now and in the future? 

Loucks: As more devices are interconnected, cyber security becomes increasingly important. Traditionally, electrical devices have not encrypted data entering or leaving their communication ports. Solutions include specialized firewalls that perform deep packet inspection of the industrial protocols and help detect unusual activity. However, the fact remains that it will be an arms race between those trying to attack your system and those trying to block that attack.

Powell: The Smart Grid will require power distribution products with smart communication capabilities. Smart devices, such as circuit breakers, relays, and meters, have existed for more than 30 years. These smart devices are self monitoring, configurable, and have communication capabilities, but individually they are only islands of intelligence. Historically, integrated remote monitoring, configuration, and control have been available only with the inclusion of upstream PMCS, PCS, DCS, or SCADA systems. 

Q: Describe how your company’s electrical products are Smart Grid compatible.

Loucks: Eaton Smart Grid solutions help to distribute electrical power more intelligently. 

With a comprehensive range of services and products, Eaton is helping to reliably, efficiently, and safely manage power across utility, commercial, industrial, and residential markets. Products are now available that include industry standard protocols and methods for connecting to the utility infrastructure, using common protocols such as IEC 61850, DNP3, Modbus (RTU and TCP), and others. Eaton also includes built-in routing and gateway functions that allow devices with other protocols, such as SNMP (a common data center protocol) or BACnet/IP (a building automation protocol), to interconnect with utility protocols. 

Eaton has a long list of hardware including one or more of these protocols that spans traditional electrical distribution equipment, control and automation solutions, power quality solutions, and the equipment used in renewable installations and electric vehicle charging. Specific equipment includes:

  • Electric vehicle service equipment
  • Solar inverters (including integrated solar/EV canopy controllers)
  • Utility underground network protectors
  • Protective relays for switchgear, transformers, generators, or bus
  • Reclosers and sectionalizers
  • UPSs
  • Rectifiers, such as dc power systems for telecom
  • VFDs
  • Power and power quality meters
  • Power factor and harmonic correction units
  • Automatic transfer switches
  • Generator switchgear (diesel, natural gas, propane, and biogas)
  • Programmable controllers
  • Human/machine and operator interfaces
  • Intelligent power strips
  • Low- (1,000 V and less) and medium-voltage (40 kV and less) circuit breakers
  • Plasma power supplies for dc welding, plasma torches
  • Smart motor control centers—both low voltage and medium voltage
  • Building lighting control and automation systems
  • Grid tie inverters and battery storage systems
  • Power conditioning products, such as sag ride-through and electronic voltage regulation
  • Predictive diagnostic solutions.  

Powell: With the advent of smart gear—such as Siemens’ smart low-voltage switchgear—remote monitoring, configuration, and control become standard features that are integral to the electrical apparatus product. 

Smith: GE’s focus on power conversion efficiency and its use of alternative energy sources, such as solar, are very consistent with the goals of the Smart Grid and the use of distributed generation sources. Building intelligent controls and communications into all of our products enables easy integration into a Smart Grid capable of managing both sources and consumers. In addition, telecom users using intelligent dc power systems are currently able to respond to requests to go off grid during times of peak demand and use their backup sources or battery reserves during these high-demand periods. 

Walker: Our Smart Grid offerings necessarily comply with utility technical requirements including communications protocols, interoperability, and security. Beyond that, they must also be compatible with the environment within which they operate. The metamorphosis of the distribution dispatch center into an operations center with a broad range of responsibilities requires an astute understanding by the supplier.

Smart Grid solutions must fit into the operating environment without burdening the operator or introducing new complexities. This is accomplished by having systems that are fully autonomous and permit quick and easy understanding of system performance at a high level along with underlying details if and when desired. It is not sufficient to address only technical compatibility. Compatibility with operational philosophies must also be taken under consideration.

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