T&D R&D Gaining Attention

Here are some high-level pointers to an array of resources related to ongoing developments in T&D research, sponsored by DOE, NSF and the CEC (Calif Energy Commission), which demonstrate a new level of attention to grid reliability and security.

Let me know if I can be helpful digging deeper into any of these areas.


DOE – Office of Electricity Transmission and Distribution

The Dept. of Energy will announce, perhaps as early as next week, the creation of a new office for T&D reporting directly to the Secretary, as recommended in the National Transmission Grid Study* done last year. The Office of Electricity Transmission and Distribution will start with a budget of $85 million, however all but $8 or 9 million is already committed to earmarks ($27 M) and high temperature superconductors ($40 M). The office will be headed by Jimmy Glotfelty, an assistant to Abrahams. The staff currently in the Transmission Reliability Program in EERE will move over to the new office.

Meanwhile next week, a new Center will be dedicated at Oak Ridge:

The dedication of the National Transmission Technology Research Center (NTTRC) and the Powerline Conductor Accelerated Facility (PCAT), the first working facility of four planned for the Center, will be held March 25. The Center, sponsored by ORNL, DOE, and TVA, will test and evaluate advanced technologies, including conductors, sensors and controls, and power electronics, under a wide range of electrical conditions without jeopardizing normal operations. The first component of the NTTRC, the PCAT facility, is initiating its first test protocol with 3M’s advanced Aluminum Conductor Composite Reinforced conductor.
— Overview of NTTRC:

The existing Transmission Reliability Program was reestablished by Congress in 1999 to conduct research on the reliability of the Nation’s electricity infrastructure during the transition to competitive markets under restructuring.
Go to “Documents and Resources” for recent studies and materials.

*(May 2002


Calif Energy Commission

The CEC Public Interest Energy Research program (PIER) has a very active effort underway in Transmission Research. They recently released a 140 page “Electricity Transmission Research and Development Assessment and Gap Analysis – Draft Consultant Report” — now available online along with other materials and presentations:

This report is one of two reports which were discussed at a public workshop held March 12, 2003 at the CEC.


National Science Foundation
Directorate for Engineering, Elec. And Communications Systems

1. Workshop on Modernizing the Electric Power Grid, Nov 02

Starting on slide 14 of James Momoh’s presentation there is a good overview of the EPNES initiative (next item)

2. NSF/ONR Partnership in Electric Power Networks Efficiency and Security (EPNES)

This solicitation seeks to obtain major advances in the integration of new concepts in control, modeling, component technology, social and economics theories for electrical power networks’ efficiency and security. It also encourages development of new interdisciplinary research-based curriculum… Proposals were due Feb 3.

3. The Power Systems Engineering Research Center (PSERC)
PSERC is an NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, involving a consortium of13 universities working with government and industry. The website has a huge array of reports and publications.

For the NSF’s “fact sheet”, see:

Gridcom Powerline Sensors

A remarkable new type of low cost and easily installed intelligent powerline sensors are nearing commercial readiness. They come in three flavors:

– Medium Voltage Single Phase Overhead (4 – 69 KV)
– Medium Voltage Single Phase Underground
– Low Voltage Single and Multi-phase Underground (e.g., 208 V)

The medium voltage devices simply clamp on the cable, and measure voltage and current without a connection to ground or a phase-to-phase connection. There is no penetration of cable voltage insulation. (It is not applicable to coax or multiple conductor configurations–only single unshielded cables.) The underground units are self-powered by the power line, and the overhead ones use batteries that will last 5 years or more.

They are said to be approximately ten times cheaper to buy and install, and offer far greater capabilities than anything else on the market. Measurement accuracies (I, V, P) are quoted at better than 3%, though the units invariably do much better. It is not a revenue meter, however.

Evaluation units are available now, and the first production units will be ready before the end of the year. Five utilities (including one or two UFTO companies) have been testing overhead sensors.

The sensors measure current and voltage and can be equipped to measure and/or detect a number of additional conditions or quantities including temperature, moisture, specific substances, light, acceleration, and vibration. Underground sensors utilize two-way powerline carrier communications over the existing lines and overhead sensors communicate through two-way low power RF systems.

Each sensor has its own local on-board intelligence to perform data processing and analysis. In typical applications the sensors calculate true rms voltage and current, power factor and harmonic content. Peak rms quantities and fault recognition capabilities can also be employed.

The sensors report by exception, when polled, or at determined times. Since data is processed at the sensors, communications bandwidth requirements are relatively low. Only processed data or observed data related events (like faults, voltage dips, or high current limits) are reported — not extensive strings of raw data.

Typical functions of these sensors (both overhead and underground) include:

– Detection and location of faults
– Measurement of power quality
– Identification of grounding and cable insulation issues
– Detection of non-technical losses
– Detection of unanticipated loads
– Confirmation of recloser, sectionalizer and other switch operations
– Support capacitor switching algorithms
– Monitoring distributed generation


Infrastructure Monitoring
– Distribution Automation
– Operations Support
– Fault Detection, Classification and Location
– Power-line losses
– Power Factor and VAR Monitoring
– Switch Operation Confirmation
– Planning Studies
– Circuit Design

Condition Based Maintenance
– Cable Burnout and Circuit Limiter Detection (low voltage U/G)
– Equipment Health Status (Fuse, Cutout, Transformer, Switch)
– Tree Trimming Effectiveness

Beyond the Meter Services
– Power Quality
– Sub-metering and Beyond-the-Meter Distribution Networks
– Harmonic Analysis

The underground sensors were initially developed for Consolidated Edison’s Secondary Underground Network Distribution Automation System (SUNDAS). The objective was to develop a comprehensive sensing system that would be relatively inexpensive to purchase, install, operate and maintain.

Con Ed has tested experimental versions of the low voltage underground sensors in their Battery Park City and Harlem networks. These tests demonstrated the capabilities of these sensors to monitor powerline conditions and to detect variations in line conditions associated with circuit limiter loss, arcing faults, changes in network protector relay status and unusual changes in power flow patterns. Based on the performance of the experimental sensors, Con Edison will install GridCom sensors throughout the Hunter network with installations beginning this fall.

US Patent No. 5,892,430: Self-powered powerline sensor
The company’s website has a lot of information and pictures:

Contact: Rich Wiesman, 781-684-4387

PowerLine Communications Breaththrough Claimed by Media Fusion

(Preface: I am usually the last person to disbelieve and write off a dramatic breakthrough story, but this one has me shaking my head. If any of you have made contact, heard the pitch directly, and especially if you’ve signed their nondisclosure and seen some details, I’ll be very interested to hear what you think of it.)

Media Fusion is a mysterious small company in Dallas TX that is making amazing claims for their “PAN”, or Powerline Area Network. Here are some words from their website:
( )

“Media Fusion’s technology is a proprietary method and system (pat. pend.) that uses the magnetic field and electric power lines.

In simple terms, Media Fusion’s Advanced Sub-Carrier Modulation™ process writes data within the electrical magnetic wave surrounding the power line, utilizing proprietary software and hardware. This then enables the electrical power grid to carry telephone, radio, video, Internet and satellite data to any destination at near light-speed.

Each home or business subscriber is provided with an easy-to-install communications package that will include a controller and several outlet connectors that can hook up phones, computers, TVs and any other communicating appliance to the network. Each connector has a unique identity that is characterized by the system.”

One of our UFTO colleagues has heard the company’s in-person presentation, and came away with no better understanding of how this is supposed to work than he had before. When I asked the company for a copy of their standard presentation vugraphs, they refused. The website provides absolutely not a clue about how the technology is supposed to work. In conversations, they say 30-40 companies have signed an NDA. They say this is the only way they’ll open up about the technology, whose patents are pending. They also say companies are lining up to give them money, and that technology demonstrations are imminent.

Meanwhile, the claims border on the fantastic. Ultra high bandwidths. Indefinitely long range. A completely new and different concept, involving the injection of data onto the magnetic field that emanates from the power system and can be felt anywhere and everywhere. This from a conversation with Luke Stewart, inventor of the technology, who utters a bizarre array of high tech buzzwords, but little that could be related to any familiar concepts of power systems or telecommunications. He is reported to be “self-educated” and a genius, someone who worked directly with Bill Gates, who’s reported to think him the smartest guy Gates had ever encountered. I could find no patents issued to him, or anything else about him.

There has been some bigtime press coverage. The company’s website has copies of articles that appeared in Interactive Week, and on CNET.,5,37215,00.html

The author of the CNET piece told me he’d not been able to learn anything more about the technology, and that he took a chance on the story, based on the support the company has from some Congressmen and retired high ranking military people.

The company did provide me with a 10-page document called “Powerline Communications Industry Update”, which has a pretty good summary of power line communications technology all over the world – and why they all have problems — maybe the best thing to come out of it. I’ll send a copy on request.

Followup re UK internet on Powerline

Here are two comments on the Nortel Norweb press release of Oct. 8. The first is from Wired Magazine’s website, and points out some of the reasons why this technology may not take the world by storm right away. The second from Reuters gives a bit more technical and business detail.

No response as yet to my inquiries to the company.

The Boy Who Cried ‘Net Access!’
by Chris Oakes WIRED

4:45am 10.Oct.97.PDT Some sizable questions surround Wednesday’s announcement by Canada’s Northern Telecom and Britain’s Norweb Communications of a technology Nortel has developed that enables high-speed Net access through existing electric lines – giving utilities an apparent easy-in to becoming communication providers via their own power-line infrastructures.

To convert power grids to data networks, says Nortel vice president of market development Graham Strange, the company’s design “modulates the data signal onto the power line and creates what is essentially a LAN environment.”

Having created a transmission protocol sufficiently robust to make its way through the heavy-duty noise of an electrical line at up to 1 Mbps, the company says, any power line can do the job. Yet there are some not-so-small technical and economic issues that may keep the local power company from rolling out the tech without some careful analysis. Especially those in North America.

The Nortel layout leverages a power grid’s tree-and-branch structure of substation-to-transformer-to-customer. A data signal can comfortably travel over existing lines from a customer’s house to the local transformer, but a problem arises then. Data won’t survive a trip through the extra-heavy noise of electrical current at the transformer, necessitating the construction of an alternate route to shuttle the data signal further up the network. And unless the power company already has separate communications lines running to that transformer node, new lines will have to be installed to finish the data circuit.

“You do have to split it out, because you can’t get it through the transformer,” Strange said. But that cost can be justified, he said, when each transformer is serving 100 to 300 customers. This is usually the case in the UK, but when each transformer only serves a handful of people – commonly 10 to 12 people in North America – the network’s tree-and-branch structure is too small for the job. And for those utilities that might choose to invest in new communications lines to their transformers, the prospect starts to lose its payoff.

Acknowledging that this could represent a significant investment for some, Strange points out that many power companies already have usable communication lines running into their transformers – and in many cases they are fiber-optic lines, which are ideal for carrying the data signal. “But other utilities will have to invest in infrastructure at the sites,” Strange said. “The economics of this becomes a challenge for some utilities – it’s a tougher business case when you try to fit it into that environment.”

A potential solution is to somehow bypass the transformer with the data signal, requiring it to make a jump between low- and high-voltage lines. Strange says there are a series of issues in making that work, and that Nortel will be trying to come up with a solution in concert with UK electric utility Norweb. “There are issues. They will take time.”

Meanwhile, Strange reports that calls by interested British and North American utilities have been pouring in.

Another variable is the system’s supported data speeds. Nortel says symmetric data rates of 500 Kbps to 1 Mbps have been achieved. But Strange says the consistency of these rates will depend on the noisiness of local lines. “With a lot of noise on the lines, the protocols will slow down. It dynamically deals with that.” To boot, as with cable-modem access, available bandwidth at the transmitter will have to be shared, presenting the possibility that during heavy traffic periods, each user’s speed will be affected. Still, under even bad conditions, a minimum speed of 500 Kbps can reasonably be expected, Strange says.

Norweb, Nortel To Plug Clients Into Internet

By Kirstin Ridley, Reuters

LONDON – Canada’s Northern Telecom (Nortel) and Britain’s Norweb Communications today unveiled new technology allowing reliable, low-cost, high-speed access to the Internet computer network through the domestic electricity supply.

In a move heralding the first competition between electricity companies and telecommunications carriers, the two groups said their patented technology would allow power firms to convert their infrastructures into information access networks.

Having “fixed the fuzz” of electrical interference on power lines, the companies said they could shunt data — and possibly voice — over power lines into the home at up to one megabit per second.

This is up to ten times faster than ISDN, the fastest currently available speed for domestic users.

Although it is slower than rival ADSL technology being developed by British Telecommunications , which upgrades copper wires, Norweb and Nortel’s technology is much cheaper for operators to install.

All consumers need is the equipment developed by Nortel and Norweb — an extra card for personal computers, some software to handle subscription, security and authentication services and a small box which is installed next to the electricity meter.

This will send and receive data and is in turn linked to a personal computer through an ordinary coaxial cable.

Peter Dudley, vice president of Nortel, said the groups had had an “absolutely spectacular” amount of interest from electricity companies in Britain and abroad who are keen to offer the service to consumers.

“The race is on to be first,” he told Reuters.

Prices will be set by electricity companies who offer the service. But consumers currently spend an average of 20 to 30 pounds ($48.6) per month for Internet access — and the new service offers permanent access without telephone costs.

“Assuming they continue to spend at that rate, it is not unreasonable to assume that is the kind of tariffing that may be submitted,” Dudley said.

The Canadian telecoms equipment maker and Norweb, part of England’s multi-utility United Utilities, said their technology was fast enough for most future domestic or small office applications and was cost effective enough to allow operators returns on investments.

“As one of the first practical, low cost answers to the problem of high speed access to the Internet, this technology will unleash the next wave of net growth,” Dudley said.

The two companies have developed a “specialized signaling scheme” which allows them to carry data traffic between local power substations and homes, effectively turning the electricity supply into a communications network.

Each substation is then linked by fiber-optic circuits to a central switch — and from there into the world-wide computer network.

After 18 months of refining and upgrading a prototype and promising “oodles of bandwidth”, the companies said they planned to market the technology in Europe and the Asia Pacific region.

“We are ready to ship in volume,” said Ian Vance, vice president and chief scientist at Nortel Europe.

Banking on high growth and good economic returns, Norweb hopes to attract around 200 customers in a marketing pilot in north western England in the second quarter of 1998 before rolling out the service.