ITECS Interview: Letting it Flow with Smart Wire Grid

This article originally appeared on ITECS.

At ITECS, we are always interested in what technology is being developed and what new products are being brought to market. Last month, I spoke with Anuj Kapadia, Senior Engineer, and Mark Freyman, CFO, from Smart Wire Grid, Inc. (SWG), located in Oakland, California.

Smart Wire Grid, Inc., a small company (about 40 employees) in business for about 3 years, designs and manufactures a transmission power flow controller that “converts an existing transmission line into a controllable and observable Smart Wire. The result is the ability to shift power away from overloaded lines onto underutilized lines while increasing situational awareness through a suite of sensors”.

Here is what they had to say about their technology:

Q: Can you describe in layman’s terms, the technology that you are working on?

A: SWG designs, tests and manufactures a transmission power flow controller. Electricity flow is based on physics and it flows where it sees less resistance. A common phrase for this is “electricity takes the path of least resistance”. Each transmission line has thermal limits which should be respected to avoid endangering the public and the life of the transmission line. Therefore, it is necessary to restrict the flows on the line for it not to exceed their limits. Smart Wire Grid’s technology restricts the flow on the lines by clamping Distributed Series Reactors (DSRs) directly on the lines, changing the characteristics of the line and, in turn, blocking the power on that overloaded line and letting it flow on underutilized lines. This is similar to a valve on a pipe line –- you close the value and you restrict the flow –- here, you increase the impedance of the line and restrict the flow. This way to route power flow can completely transform the way power system are planned and operated.

Q: Did you use government funding to develop the technology?

A: The technology was originally developed at Georgia Tech with support from DOE. Smart Wire Grid licensed the technology from Georgia Tech and then leveraged ARPA-E government funding in 2011 to deploy the first testbed at TVA and accelerate commercialization. The company is now in the commercialization stage.

Q: Where will this technology be used in the marketplace?

A: The technology will be used on transmission lines to improve the reliability of the grid, reduce electricity prices for end use customers by reducing congestion, reduce the cost of renewable integration and increase the visibility of utility operators, asset managers, and system planners to the state of the grid. It will provide a game changing solution, making the grid flexible. As a utility deploys DSR units system wide, they will be able to control the flow of power across their system. In addition to the methods a grid operator has been using in operating the grid, deploying DSRs across the grid will give them the flexibility they have hoped for to control any uncertainties that arise in the grid. A system wide deployment of Smart Wire Grid technology could lower the overall cost by 2-10%, depending on the level of congestion of the grid system.

Q: What does your technology compete against?

A: SWG technology does not have any direct competition as the DSR is the first commercial distributed power flow controller. There are other legacy solutions to increase the capacity of overloaded lines such as re-conductoring and new line construction. Air core reactors, flexible AC transmission systems (FACTS) and phase-shifting transformers (PSTs) can be used to redirect flows.

Q: Why do you think your technology is a better solution to alternative technologies?

A: SWG technology is faster to deploy and less space intensive than new line construction, air core reactors, FACTS or PSTs. In addition, as a distributed asset, DSRs offer higher reliability than centralized power flow control solutions like FACTS and PSTs. Finally, SWG technology offers increased visibility to the state of the transmission line, a feature FACTS and PSTs do not provide. The increased visibility allows operators to foresee upcoming issues on the system and provide additional insight during the post-disturbance analysis. A system wide deployment of Smart Wire Grid technology will help operate the grid reliably and economically. In total, SWG technology converts the transmission line into a smart wire helping managing the power flows on the line. The legacy solutions have challenges, much like the Christmas lights dilemma –- if one unit goes dark, the whole string goes dark — but with DSR, even if a few units go down, the remaining units are still performing their job, providing a much more reliable solution.

Q: Is the technology in early stage, medium stage or late stage development?  When do you expect the technology to commercialize?

A: SWG technology executed its first DSR commercial sale in December 2013. Other products are in the early to medium stage or development.

Q: What sort of companies would you like to partner with to commercialize this technology?

A: Electric utilities, electric-sector research organizations, and possibly Generators. We love customers!  Other potential partners would be electrical engineering firms that do work for transmission owners. Our technology is useful globally –transmission lines exist everywhere. DSR is a cheaper, more reliable solution to regulate the flow of electricity through those transmission lines.

Q: Anything else you would like to share about your technology?

A: Yes, DSRs can be used with or without sensors integrated into the design. We have a suite of communication packages that are integrated into DSRs to facilitate situational awareness and provide data to assist in real time operations and with future planning.

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