The Smart Grid is destined to become a platform, much like the Internet is a platform. Once the Grid is in place other technologies, new feature sets, and capabilities will inevitably spring forth. There is no limit to the functionality that might emerge from this platform once the implementation and adoption is widespread.

Smart Grid Technology

Bill Kutsche | Murata Electronics North America

How do you interpret the meaning of the term, "Smart Grid," and what does that imply for consumers?

The answer seems to be a moving target within the industry. From my point of view the “Smart Grid” is the enhancement of the current electric grid, through advanced technology, to enable service providers’ automated energy monitoring and management as well as consumers’ control over its efficient use.


Do you think consumers will benefit directly (savings and control) or will the utilities be the primary beneficiaries of the Smart Grid?

Utilities and other companies are already benefiting from the U.S. government’s initiatives stemming from $4.5 billion in stimulus funds generated by the 2009 Reinvestment and Recovery Act. According to some reports about 21 million smart meters have already been deployed in the U.S. with about 58 million more approved. Once the smart meters are in place, consumer service options will be inherently expanded. But the extent that rate-payers actually benefit from the smart grid coming to their doors depends largely on how the utility engages their customer base with education programs and energy management tools such as home area networked (HAN) appliance control systems. Those inclined to exploit tools and features offered by utilities will benefit the most while customers not attracted to new applications may not.

Ultimately though, the Smart Grid is a win-win proposition.  All parties can win if everyone engages and agrees on the value of energy use management.


What are some key technologies driving the growth of the smart grid today?

Around 90 million smart meters are currently installed worldwide. Some sources indicate that 400 million more will be deployed internationally within the next four years.  The technology used in these meters includes software, electronics and materials. In the electronics area, I see communications being one of the key applications driving growth. Today most wireless technology in the smart meter is for the meter’s connection to the utilities’ communication network. Many are also fitted with separate two-way radios enabling connectivity into the home or enterprise. Of the many protocols adopted in North America, the most common are 900MHz band mesh and 2.4GHz ZigBee mesh for utility infrastructure and HAN connectivity, respectively.

Aside from the smart-meter, demand-response (DR) equipment offers near real-time response to energy demands to the providers, and uses the same communications technologies as in smart meters. Within the Grid’s infrastructure cell relays, data collectors, routers etc., help the data flow between the utility and the meter.

On the consumer side, ZigBee in-home-displays (IHD), thermostats and other appliances complete the connection to the ZigBee radio feature within the smart meter and DR equipment. Via these networks usage information may be collected and analyzed by the utilities to forecast and manage energy demands in order to minimize costs. Likewise consumers may be able to monitor and control their demand in the time domain to lower their own usage costs.

Sensing technologies too are key to driving smart meter/Smart Grid growth.  For example, tamper-detect sensors can immediately transmit signs of tampering to the utility provider allowing quick corrective action and mitigating potential cost rises. “Hidden switch” sensors provide maintenance crews with the ability to toggle the meter’s display modes from the standard “operation” mode to “diagnostic” modes, allowing on-site maintenance capabilities without the need for physically removing the meter.  Temperature sensing components help manage the electronic circuitry within the meter ensuring proper operation and function. Sensors also provide service utilities real-time conditions of power lines on the grid. Inside the home or enterprise, sensors convey information on ambient temperature, light, humidity and other conditions to help the consumers manage their environment and energy usage.


Where does Murata participate in the development of these technologies?

 Murata’s innovative components are used in a wide-variety of Smart Grid applications from sensing technologies to communications. Murata’s largest electronics contribution for the Smart Grid is the supply of capacitors and inductors. They provide many functions from noise elimination and signal filtering to power management within the smart meter as well as the other segments of the grid. These functions are critical since the electronics now inherent in the Smart Grid system are both noise sensitive and in a naturally noisy environment.

Additionally Murata manufactures most of the smart meter and HAN communication components for all of the common protocols, such as ZigBee. The components include radio frequency (RF) filters, chip antennas, RF connectors, RF GaAs switches, power amplifiers (PAs), low noise amplifiers (LNAs), RF Front-End Modules (FEMs), and fully integrated, FCC-certified wireless modules.

Murata also develops shock sensors for the tamper detection feature, anisotropic magneto resistance (AMR) sensors for “hidden-switch” functions, thermistors thermal management and over-current protection of electronics and RFID solutions for traceability and meter pre-payment implementations.

Murata’s strong focus on research and development in the areas of materials, components, circuits and modules has made us ideally positioned to design technologies for current and future generations of Smart Grid features. 


Does the vision of a Smart Grid tie in with any other systems currently installed in homes such as solar systems and home automation?

Absolutely – photovoltaic (PV) solar systems, for example may allow owners to potentially reduce their electricity cost to zero via “net-metering”. This is essentially the ability of the consumer to sell their PV-solar – generated energy upstream to the utility in the form of a credit to their energy bill. This feature is augmented by the ability of the utility to monitor the user’s energy usage via the Smart Grid so that the appropriate credit may be applied.

Also, home automation (HA) systems have been around for quite a long time. But the surge in Smart Grid technologies have given added vigor to HA applications by introducing features such as home-energy and environmental conditions monitoring and management. Enabled by the connectivity of smart meters, utilities are offering expanded service packages that include high-load equipment monitoring and control such as HVAC, swimming pool and hot-tub pump systems. Many third parties too are contributing solutions for consumers to take control of their energy usage via power sensing products and communications devices and software. As these solutions proliferate it is easy to see how home automation systems and the Smart Grid are beginning to form a natural association that can be beneficial to consumers, utilities and HA systems providers.


What are some of the obstacles preventing a more accelerated adoption or even demand for the smart grid technologies available today?

One obstacle is security. Utilities, government entities and other Smart Grid stakeholders have come a long way and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has even offered Smart Grid cyber security standards for consideration. But there is a lingering analogy of the Internet security issue that continues to be an ongoing challenge for engineers and scientists.

Another obstacle is consumers’ fear that the utilities may adopt a role of big-brother when their meter and the grid’s connectivity is turned on. This is not necessarily an irrational fear so utilities must carefully seek to overcome the problem with consumer-friendly education programs while implementing effective customer satisfaction initiatives.

Additionally the lack of a single adopted standard makes the roll-out of Smart-Grid solutions slow, difficult and expensive to implement. This trajectory of the Smart Grid implementation is the product of a free enterprise system so there are clear benefits over the alternative. That notwithstanding a standardized communication network could accelerate adoption and speed the build-out of the grid.


Where do you see the future of the smart grid heading?

 The possibilities are endless.  The Smart Grid is destined to become a platform, much like the Internet is a platform. Once the Grid is in place other technologies, new feature sets, and capabilities will inevitably spring forth. There is no limit to the functionality that might emerge from this platform once the implementation and adoption is widespread.


How else is Murata involved in the Alternative Energy Industry?

Murata is working to meet the emerging demands for solutions in the photo-voltaic solar systems now being developed and deployed. These solutions include, as mentioned before, capacitors, inductors, RF communications components and modules, sensors and others. Wind energy is another application Murata is researching. Essentially anywhere power is in need of control or management - Murata is there.


Bill Kutsche Profile

Murata develops and manufactures electronic components and modules used in applications ranging from smart phones and PCs to automobiles and smart meters. Bill leads Murata Electronics N.A.'s energy market business development effort in the Americas and operates out of the company's headquarters location near Atlanta, GA. He has an extensive background in the electronics industry dating back to his start at the company as a circuit module design engineer over 20 years ago. Since then he has led various modules marketing and management initiatives at Murata.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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