Software and manufacturing trends highlighted at IEEE conference
One engineer reflects on his experience at IEEE's PES Transmission & Distribution Conference (IEEE PES T&D) April 14-17 in Chicago and the event's key takeaways.
IEEE PES T&D is here again, and as an engineer, the event is almost as fun as a kid looking at a toy catalog before Christmas. Hundreds of vendors arrive from around the world, and various products that support transmission and distribution is on display. The event was hosted by the IEEE Power & Energy Society, and it occurs about every two years.
For the last 15 years there has been discussion about what would we do if we could build a solid-state distribution or transmission circuit. At IEEE's conference this year, it became possible to start thinking about building one. With growth in the rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems industry, solid-state devices offer a lot of benefits to customers and PV owners. From solid-state transformers, to tap changes, to switches, reclosers, and sectionalizers, solid-state devices and their prototypes are either on the show floor or are shown in pictures.
Every single piece that would be needed to build a solid-state (digital) distribution circuit exists. Of course, they are not yet at prices that are reasonable, and they are not in a final commercial form that will meet long-term utility needs. There are many steps neeed to replace the existing transformers, which start with making sure standards are inclusive of these devices and their capabilities. Developing guidelines for testing, creating test procedures, using communications and system integration, and getting to common data formats on these devices is also still needed. Operations procedures need to be modified in order to incorporate new capabilities, and field workers need to be trained to install and maintain the devices. While a “laboratory” circuit is possible today, we are probably a decade away from wide commercial adoption of some of these devices. IEEE aims to help accelerate the adoption with our standards and testing guidelines.
Growing international production
Walking around IEEE PES T&D, another trend comes to view, which is the increasing quality and complexity of products from China. Four years ago at IEEE PES T&D Chinese vendors were mostly selling components and basic equipment. Today, many booths had equipment that rivaled the quality of South Korean or Japanese manufacturers. If this trend continues, in four more years, China may be one of the best places to buy transmission and distribution equipment. This change of capability will probably result in an upward spiral in equipment possibility and innovation, as each company in the industry works to produce quality equipment.
Finally, there is strong growth in the number of software vendors on the show floor and in the various hotel suites. Software continues to grow in importance for the integration and operation of the grid. The quality and variety of software is probably expanding faster in the utility industry than in any other area. All of these changes point to the need for a solid roadmap and excellent architecture at utilities in the future, as a new generation of young workers begin to take control of the grid.
Doug Houseman is vice president of technical innovation at EnerNex LLC.
Edited by Jessica DuBois-Maahs, associate content manager, CFE Media, firstname.lastname@example.org.