Qualcomm Blog: Enabling Smart Wires to build a dynamic grid

by Kiva Allgood

This key component of the grid is not currently capable of easily throttling up or down throughput to match the intermittency of power generated from big solar or wind farms.

Today, grid operators either have to build out expensive new lines or curtail the generation of power from these new renewable sources. Recognizing an opportunity to optimize the existing grid, San Francisco-based solutions company Smart Wires has developed the PowerLine Guardian, a distributed technology that enables utilities to better monitor and dynamically control the flow of power across transmission lines.

Featuring an embedded 3G modem from Qualcomm Technologies Inc., the PowerLine Guardian is a great example of how intelligent connectivity can enable power companies to optimize existing infrastructure by making transmission lines “smart.”

Each module clamps directly on transmissions lines and enables operators to wirelessly control impedance to push power away from heavily loaded lines to those with more capacity.

The Qualcomm Smart Cities team has long envisioned that cellular technology would be a key driver in connecting smart energy applications. Smart Wires is taking advantage of this ubiquitous network coverage to send data captured from the PowerLine Guardian modules to their PowerLine Commander control and data aggregation software. This software directly integrates into a utility company’s existing Energy Management System (EMS) and features a graphical user interface, data aggregator and logger, and alert generator that grid operators use to manage their PowerLine Guardian fleet.

Currently deployed with the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Georgia Power Company, as well as Irish utility EirGrid, Smart Wires is helping power companies maximize existing grid infrastructure to improve grid resiliency, lower energy costs, better integrate renewable energy sources and ultimately build a truly dynamic grid.Learn more about SmartWires here. Learn how the Qualcomm Smart Cities team is reimagining the role of technology and connectivity in today’s cities here.

Original article.

Business Journal: Former Ameren CEO becomes chairman of tech startup; raises $31 million

Joe Dwyer
St. Louis Business Journal

Tom VossThomas Voss, former chairman, president and CEO of Ameren Corp., has joined Smart Wires as company chairman. Smart Wires is an Oakland, California-based startup with technology that could turn transmission lines into flexible power conduits for a growing solar- and wind-powered grid.

The company raised another $30.8 million from a single investor in its latest round of funding, according to a June 3 filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The investor is 3×5 Special Opportunity Fund, an investment vehicle formed by St. Louis-based RiverVest Venture Partners, along with Arnerich Massena & Associates. RiverVest is led by co-founder and managing partner Jay Schmelter.

Smart Wires will use the money to bring its first product, the PowerLine Guardian device, to commercial-scale production this year, and to finish development of its second product, the PowerLine Router device, so it can be field tested early next year.

Smart Wires has raised a total of about $62.8 million, including a nearly $4 million grant from ARPA-E, the Department of Energy energy research program. David Ratcliffe, former CEO of Southern Co., recently joined the startup’s advisory board. Jim Davis is CEO of Smart Wires.

Original article.

Greentech Media: Smart Wires Raises $30.8M for Transmission Power Routing

Money to turn high-voltage grids into flexible networks for solar and wind power

by Jeff St. John

Smart Wires, a startup with technology that could turn transmission lines into flexible power conduits for an increasingly solar- and wind-powered grid, has raised $30.8 million to bring its first product to commercial production and ready its second for field testing early next year.

The new round, first reported in a May filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, brings Smart Wires’ total funding to about $62.8 million, including a $10 million series A round, an $18 million series B round, and a nearly $4 million grant from ARPA-E, the Department of Energy energy research program. Previous investor 3×5 Special Opportunity Fund, an investment vehicle formed by RiverVest Venture Partners, Arnerich Massena & Associates, was the investor.

About $11.3 million of the new round has already come to the Oakland, Calif.-based company in the form of bridge loans, which with interest are being converted to roughly $11.6 million in convertible notes, Chief Financial Officer Mark Freyman said in a Wednesday interview. The remaining $19.2 million in equity is being brought into the company in tranches over the next 12 to 18 months, he said.

CEO Jim Davis noted that the startup has also brought on some big-name former utility executives, including Thomas Voss, former CEO, president and chairman of utility Ameren, who has joined as company chairman, and David Ratcliffe, former Southern Company CEO, who has joined the startup’s advisory board.

Smart Wires intends to use the money to bring its PowerLine Guardian device to commercial-scale production this year, and to complete development of its PowerLine Router device in hopes of putting it into trials in early 2016, he said.

Below is our most recent article on Smart Wires, which goes into more detail on how both devices work to throttle and augment power flow along transmission lines, respectively.

*  *  *

Transmission grids could be one of the bigger bottlenecks to growing the world’s share of green power. Built to push power from central power plants at steady outputs, along undisturbed paths, they aren’t well suited for cutting back or increasing throughput to match the intermittency of big wind and solar farms.

Oakland, Calif.-based startup Smart Wires says its technology could help open up these bottlenecks. That, in turn, could help reduce renewable energy curtailments, alleviate the cost and complexity of multi-state transmission upgrades, and allow the expansion of renewable power plants that couldn’t otherwise be built in far away, wind and sun-rich locales.

At least, that’s the long-term vision. So far, the Georgia Tech spinout, formerly named Smart Wire Grid, has tested its technology with the federal Tennessee Valley Authority and Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power, with results that indicate it can do what it promises. Last month, it launched testing with Irish transmission system operator EirGrid — and earlier this month, California utility Pacific Gas & Electric announced a pilot project that appears to be using Smart Wires’ technology.

Jim Davis, Smart Wires’ new CEO, said in an interview last week that the startup is also “collaborating with 25 of the largest global transmission organizations, to see how we can help them achieve their top strategic priorities.” While he declined to discuss details of those discussions, or to comment on the PG&E project, he did say that the company’s existing PowerLine Guardian devices and its Commander software management system — and a next-generation product, called the PowerLine Router, set for pilot testing early next year — could be “one of the most critical components of the future dynamic grid.”

“Being able to control the flow of power across your grid is one of the best tools to become available in a utility’s toolkit for a long time,” said Davis, a 25-year energy industry veteran who previously served as president of Chevron Energy Solutions. “For the first time, utilities, transmission owners and operators, are able to control the flow of power across this meshed network.”

Technology to squeeze, redirect, monitor the flow of high-voltage power

Smart Wires’ key innovation is its PowerLine Guardian — a device similar to a current transformer with on-board computing and cellular connectivity, that mounts directly on transmission lines and adds impedance as needed to “choke” the flow of electrons through overloaded lines and redirect it to other transmission corridors.

Its first test was with TVA, which installed 100 of these devices across about 20 miles of 161-kilovolt transmission lines. The startup debuted the results of its TVA pilot at the 2013 ARPA-E Energy Summit outside Washington, D.C., as part of a showcase of the Department of Energy research program’s early success stories.

The next test with Georgia Power started in 2013, with 33 units installed on two 115-kilovolt transmission lines and run continuously for 16 months. According to a January 2015 report, all but two of the devices were still operational at the end of the test, and successfully demonstrated their ability to control power flow as modeled before installation — results that led Georgia Power to double their fleet of the devices last year.

The goal was to prove the technology could be integrated into existing or new transmission networks, and help bring a new solution to managing the transmission of power across a potentially overloaded system, according to Michael Grabstein, Smart Wires solutions engineer. Today, grid operators facing an overabundance of transmission-constrained generation have essentially two choices: build new lines to carry it to the loads that need it, or curtail the generation — that is, shut it down.

These problems are already happening today in places like West Texas or thePacific Northwest, where grid operators have been forced at times to curtail wind power because they’re generating more electricity than the system can safely transmit at the time. “That’s currently the only way utilities can maintain reliability — and that’s giving up the economics of utilizing the cheapest energy,” Grabstein said.

With the Smart Wires devices in place, by contrast, “we would push power from the overloaded line to the under-utilized lines, and increase the total system capacity,” he said. The devices are built to function autonomously to reduce loading on circuits when they reach certain triggers, or through the startup’s Commander software to act in coordination with utility control centers, he said.

Smart Wires’ guardian devices can “choke” power on a line. But its next product, the PowerLine Router, is aimed at directly increasing the throughput of underutilized lines, Grabstein said.

“The router has the same guts to it” as the PowerLine Guardian, “but it also has some other technology that’s harvesting power, converting that, and rather than just injecting the magnetizing impedance, it’s injecting a leading or lagging voltage through that transformer, and synthesizing inductance or capacitance,” he said.

Today, some of that functionality is performed by series capacitors, but “a synthesized capacitance has huge benefits over a traditional series capacitor,” he said. Those include the ability to filter harmonic distortion, improve stability and mitigate, rather than induce, sub-synchronous resonance.

In some ways, the router is seeking to effect similar digital power controls on the transmission grid that devices from companies like Gridco and Varentec are performing on distribution grids. In fact, Varentec President and CTO Deepak Divan also first conceptualized Smart Wires’ Router technology while working at Georgia Tech, Grabstein said.

But the router device has come second in terms of development because “it’s a more complex operation, and requires a greater level of integration and a greater awareness of the system at large,” he said.

Today’s transmission grids do have existing technologies, like phase-shifting transformers or flexible alternating current transmission systems (FACTS), which can perform some similar functions, Grabstein said. But they’re big and complex machines sited at substations serving the highest-voltage power lines, whereas Smart Wires work well on networks at and below 230 kilovolts, and avoid any single point of failure, he said.

Transmission grids at a crossroads — and technology to help

That’s going to become increasingly important as transmission operators struggle to upgrade an aging grid to manage increasing amounts of renewable energy, Davis said. In that sense, Smart Wires’ technology is “coming along at the perfect time.”

Advances in wide-area communications, materials sciences and power electronics over the past decade or so begun to allow this kind of technology to emerge as a viable alternative to business as usual on the transmission grid, he said. But the other piece to the puzzle has been the changing landscape for transmission grid operators, he said.

“The proliferation of renewables, the environmental pressure to retire base-load power plants, sort of created the opportunity,” he said. “Whereas in the past, you sort of solved the problems with brute force,” today’s grid economics are making that a much more challenging proposition.

Simply put, U.S. electricity demand is flattening, which means that the rate increases through which grid upgrades are traditionally financed are becoming harder to justify. Most of today’s generation growth is coming from wind and solar power, which brings increased variability in power output. But it’s hard to get ratepayers to spend money building brand new power lines that may only be required to deliver power only for relatively rare peaks in generation.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has tracked an uptick in transmission grid spending over the past decade, largely to boost resiliency after the 2003 blackout in the U.S. Northeast, as well as to help carry power from Midwest wind farms to population centers. But that investment is set tofall over the remainder of the decade, according to The Edison Electric Institute.

Meanwhile, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s energy infrastructure a “D+” grade in a 2013 report, and said that current plans could lead to a $37 billion investment gap in transmission by 2020. The Edison Electric Institute has highlighted $60.6 billion in transmission investments that will be necessary to modernize the transmission system through 2024, and three-quarters of that is in support of new renewable resources.

The kind of flexibility that Smart Wires is promising could help reduce the “brute force” transmission capacity requirements used in today’s transmission planning, Davis noted. Ireland’s EirGrid, which is dealing with a lot of wind power, is examining how it could use the startup’s technology for “primarily eliminating or avoiding building new lines,” for example, he noted.

Even where new high-voltage transmission lines do need to be built, Smart Wires could help make the integration of that power much simpler at the point where it’s being delivered, Grabstein said. That includes new high-voltage direct current transmission projects carrying massive amounts of wind power across long distances — “We’re not going to avoid that – but we’re going to make that interconnection more efficient.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 1000 requires cost-sharing for grid investments that affect multiple states and utility jurisdictions, and adds the burden of taking state carbon reduction and renewable energy integration policies into account. In that regulatory environment, “a company building a large line like that is going to harvest the economic value of that project — but they’re going to be responsible for paying for all the ancillary upgrades,” he said. “They have to make sure they don’t cause problems on other parties’ systems.”

Last week, the Obama administration released its first-ever Quadrennial Energy Review, which identified billions of dollars in technology investments required to bring more resiliency, security and green energy integration capability to the country’s power grid. One of the report’s recommendations is to spend $3.5 billion in R&D spending over the next 10 years for “new tools and technologies” such as “system control and power flow to optimize for new grid capabilities” and “grid sensing and measurements for determining changes in variable generation markets and infrastructure conditions.” It’s possible that Smart Wires’ technology could fit into these categories.

Davis said that the company is hoping the next step into commercialization will be a “system-wide deployment,” involving the startup’s technical assistance in doing a system-wide analysis, and then applying its technology to those projects where it can help reduce costs and improve efficiency and safety. Making changes in the world of transmission grids takes a lot of time, of course — but on that schedule, Smart Wires could be considered as closing in on the finish line.

Original article.

Greentech Media: Smart Wires Clears Congestion and Allows More Renewables on the Transmission Grid

The startup’s power-throttling and routing devices could bring new flexibility to a solar- and wind-influenced power grid.

by Jeff St. John

Transmission grids are one of the biggest bottlenecks to growing the world’s share of wind and solar power. Transmission networks built to push power from central power plants at steady outputs, along undisturbed paths, aren’t well suited for cutting back or increasing throughput to match the intermittent generation coming from big wind and solar farms.

Oakland, Calif.-based startup Smart Wires says its technology could help open up these bottlenecks. That, in turn, could help reduce renewable energy curtailments, alleviate the cost and complexity of multi-state transmission upgrades, and allow renewable power plants to serve more distant customers.

At least, that’s the long-term vision. So far, the Georgia Tech spinout, formerly named Smart Wire Grid, has tested its technology with the federal Tennessee Valley Authority and Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power, with results that indicate it can do what it promises. Last month, it launched testing with Irish transmission system operator EirGrid — and earlier this month, California utility Pacific Gas & Electric announced a pilot project that appears to be using Smart Wires’ technology.

Jim Davis, Smart Wires’ new CEO, said in an interview last week that the startup is also “collaborating with 25 of the largest global transmission organizations to see how we can help them achieve their top strategic priorities.” While he declined to reveal details of those discussions, or to comment on the PG&E project, he did say that the company’s existing PowerLine Guardian devices and its Commander software management system — and a next-generation product, called the PowerLine Router, set for pilot testing early next year — could be “one of the most critical components of the future dynamic grid.”

“Being able to control the flow of power across your grid is one of the best tools to become available in a utility’s toolkit for a long time,” said Davis, a 25-year energy industry veteran who previously served as president of Chevron Energy Solutions. “For the first time, utilities and transmission owners and operators are able to control the flow of power across this meshed network.”

Technology to squeeze, redirect and monitor the flow of high-voltage power

Smart Wires’ key innovation is its PowerLine Guardian — a device similar to a current transformer with on-board computing and cellular connectivity that mounts directly on transmission lines and adds impedance as needed to “choke” the flow of electrons through overloaded lines and redirect it to other transmission corridors. Its first test was with TVA, which installed 100 of these devices across about 20 miles of 161-kilovolt transmission lines.

The startup debuted the results of its TVA pilot at the 2013 ARPA-E Energy Summit outside Washington, D.C., as part of a showcase of the Department of Energy research program’s early success stories. It has raised a $10 million series A round and an $18 million series B round from investors including RiverVest Venture Partners, Arnerich Massena & Associates, 3×5 Special Opportunity Fund, and Jane Capital Partners, and also received nearly $4 million from ARPA-E as part of its Green Electricity Network Integration(GENI) program.

The next test with Georgia Power started in 2013, with 33 units installed on two 115-kilovolt transmission lines and run continuously for 16 months. According to a January 2015 report, all but two of the devices were still operational at the end of the test, and they successfully demonstrated their ability to control power flow as modeled before installation — results that led Georgia Power to double its fleet of the devices last year.

The goal was to prove the technology could be integrated into existing or new transmission networks, and help bring a new solution to managing the transmission of power across a potentially overloaded system, according to Michael Grabstein, Smart Wires’ solutions engineer. Today, grid operators facing an overabundance of transmission-constrained generation have essentially two choices: build new lines to carry it to the loads that need it, or curtail the generation — that is, shut it down.

These problems are already happening today in places such as West Texas and the Pacific Northwest, where grid operators have been forced at times to curtail wind power because they’re generating more electricity than the system can safely transmit at the time. “That’s currently the only way utilities can maintain reliability — and that’s giving up the economics of utilizing the cheapest energy,” Grabstein said.

With the Smart Wires devices in place, by contrast, “we would push power from the overloaded line to the under-utilized lines, and increase the total system capacity,” he said. The devices are built to function autonomously to reduce loading on circuits when they reach certain triggers, or through the startup’s software to act in coordination with utility control centers, he said.

While the guardian devices can “choke” power on a line, Smart Wires’ next product, the PowerLine Router, is aimed at directly increasing the throughput of underutilized lines, Grabstein added.

“The router has the same guts to it” as the PowerLine Guardian, “but it also has some other technology that’s harvesting power, converting that, and rather than just injecting the magnetizing impedance, it’s injecting a leading or lagging voltage through that transformer, and synthesizing inductance or capacitance,” he said.

Today, some of that functionality is performed by series capacitors, but “a synthesized capacitance has huge benefits over a traditional series capacitor,” he said. Those include the ability to filter harmonic distortion, improve stability, and mitigate, rather than induce, sub-synchronous resonance.

In some ways, the router is seeking to effect similar digital power controls on the transmission grid that devices from companies like Gridco and Varentecare performing on distribution grids. In fact, Varentec President and CTO Deepak Divan also first conceptualized Smart Wires’ Router technology while working at Georgia Tech, Grabstein said.

But the router device has come second in terms of development because “it’s a more complex operation, and requires a greater level of integration and a greater awareness of the system at large,” he said.

Today’s transmission grids do have technologies like phase-shifting transformers or flexible alternating current transmission systems, which can perform some similar functions, Grabstein said. But they’re big and complex machines sited at substations serving the highest-voltage power lines, whereas the Smart Wires devices work well on networks at and below 230 kilovolts, and avoid any single point of failure, he said.

Transmission grids at a crossroads

That’s going to become increasingly important as transmission operators struggle to upgrade an aging grid to manage increasing amounts of renewable energy, Davis said. In that sense, Smart Wires’ technology is “coming along at the perfect time.”

Advances in wide-area communications, materials science and power electronics over the past decade or so have been an important part of why this kind of technology has only now begun to emerge as a viable alternative to business as usual on the transmission grid, he said. But the other piece to the puzzle has been the changing landscape for transmission grid operators, he said.

“The proliferation of renewables, the environmental pressure to retire baseload power plants, sort of created the opportunity,” he said. “Whereas in the past, you…solved the problems with brute force,” today’s grid economics are making that a much more challenging proposition.

Simply put, U.S. electricity demand is flattening, which means that the rate increases through which grid upgrades are traditionally financed are becoming harder to justify. What generation growth is taking place is coming from wind and solar power, which brings increased variability in power output — but it’s hard to get ratepayers to spend money building brand new power lines that may only be required to deliver power for relatively rare peaks in generation.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has tracked an uptick in transmission grid spending over the past decade, largely to boost resiliency after the 2003 blackout in the U.S. Northeast, as well as to help carry power from Midwest wind farms to population centers. But that investment is set to fall over the remainder of the decade, according to The Edison Electric Institute.

Meanwhile, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s energy infrastructure a “D+” grade in a 2013 report, and said that current plans could lead to a $37 billion investment gap in transmission by 2020. The Edison Electric Institute has highlighted $60.6 billion in transmission investments that will be necessary to modernize the transmission system through 2024, and three-quarters of that is in support of new renewable resources.

The kind of flexibility that Smart Wires is promising could help reduce the “brute-force” transmission capacity requirements used in today’s transmission planning, Davis noted. For example, Ireland’s EirGrid, which is dealing with a lot of wind power, is examining how it could use the startup’s technology for “primarily eliminating or avoiding building new lines,” he noted.

Even where new high-voltage transmission lines do need to be built, Smart Wires could help make the integration of that power much simpler at the point where it’s being delivered, Grabstein said. That includes new high-voltage direct current transmission projects carrying massive amounts of wind power across long distances: “We’re not going to avoid that, but we’re going to make that interconnection more efficient.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 1000 requires cost-sharing for grid investments that affect multiple states and utility jurisdictions, and adds the burden of taking state carbon reduction and renewable energy integration policies into account. In that regulatory environment, “a company building a large line like that is going to harvest the economic value of that project — but they’re going to be responsible for paying for all the ancillary upgrades,” he said. “They have to make sure they don’t cause problems on other parties’ systems.”

Last week, the Obama administration released its first-ever Quadrennial Energy Review, which identified billions of dollars in technology investments required to bring more resiliency, security and green energy integration capability to the country’s power grid. One of the report’s recommendations is to spend $3.5 billion in R&D spending over the next 10 years for “new tools and technologies” such as “system control and power flow to optimize for new grid capabilities” and “grid sensing and measurements for determining changes in variable generation markets and infrastructure conditions.”

Davis said that the company is hoping the next step into commercialization will be a “system-wide deployment,” involving the startup’s technical assistance in doing a system-wide analysis, and then applying its technology to those projects where it can help reduce costs and improve efficiency and safety. Making changes in the world of transmission grids takes a lot of time, of course — but on that schedule, Smart Wires could be considered as closing in on the finish line.

Original article.

Sunday Business Post: Eirgrid powers forward with energy innovation

by Ruth Wildgust

Integration of the variable flow of renewable energy is key to building power grids of the future

Wind Ireland

The amount of wind-generated electricity across the island of Ireland will reach 4,800 megawatts by 2020

EirGrid is the first transmission system operator outside the States to evaluate the PowerLine Guardian, a power flow control device that helps protect the transmission system by diverting power away from heavily loaded lines to those with available capacity.

“We are particularly excited about this new technology,” said Michael Walsh, director of future grids at EirGrid.

“The PowerLine Guardian, developed by US company Smart Wires, helps prevent overloads, reduces generation costs and strengthens the ability of the transmission system to respond to changes in power flow, EirGrid is currently testing this technology for inclusion in our toolbox of smart grid technologies,” said Walsh.

“The use of new technologies, which drive long-term value for customers, is a key component of the energy system of the future,” said Walsh. EirGrid runs the transmission grid, managing the bulk flow of electricity that is generated from traditional and renewable sources. “Currently, in excess of 20 per cent of Ireland’s electricity mix comes from renewable sources,” said Walsh.

“The majority of this is generated by onshore wind. Other renewable sources and technologies, such as hydro energy, biomass and waste-to-energy plants are also integrated in smaller amounts.”

EirGrid operates the wholesale electricity market worth €3 billion, which has approximately 2.5 million electricity consumers, 1.8 million in the Republic of Ireland and 700,000 users in Northern Ireland.

EirGrid also owns and operates the East-West Interconnector, a €550 million electricity link between Wales and Ireland.

“A key objective of Ireland’s energy policy is to improve our energy security by increasing indigenous production to make us less dependent on imported fossil fuels,” said Walsh.

“A primary focus for EirGrid is to facilitate the connection of new renewable energy sources and to strengthen the network to increase the amount of renewable energy that can be safely used on the transmission grid.”

The 2009 Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC) requires that 20 per cent of all energy in the European Union comes from renewable sources by 2020.

“Ireland’s target is to source 16 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020,” said Walsh. “Our goal in facilitating green energy is to enable Ireland to meet this target.”

Read full article.

Scientific American: Q&A with Smart Wires

You Asked – They Answered: Q&A with Smart Wires

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


I have received many interesting questions from readers in response to last Sunday’s article “Controlling the Path of Least Resistance with Smart Wires.” This week, I consolidated these questions and took them back to Smart Wires – the start-up company behind the power flow control technology that was featured in the previous discussion – to get their response. Their answers are below.

But first, to quickly re-cap – According to reports released over the past 6 months, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Southern Company have successfully deployed networks of distributed power flow control devices to relieve stress on the nation’s electricity grid. These reports document findings from two on-going large-scale projects that could represent an economic option for solving a national grid modernization challenge.

The core technologies used in these projects were developed by Smart Wires, an aptly named start-up company based in Oakland, California. This company was one of the first technology start-ups funded by ARPA-E under their Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI) Program.

Question 1 – Do you need to put this power flow control technology on every power line in the transmission grid? Or is a portion (1/3) enough to have *almost* complete control?

Every system is unique with different constraints and requirements. While it depends heavily on the electrical network, it will often be the case that some key transmission lines will benefit more from Smart Wires technology and have more impact on the remaining lines in the network than other lines in the system. Deploying Smart Wires on a single line can often have disproportionate impact on the entire grid. For example, we’ve seen cases where deploying on a single line can allow sufficient power transfer to avoid building a new power plant. It usually makes sense to deploy on the lines with the highest impact on grid resiliency (or to solve a particular problem) and then proceed with additional lines until the benefits do not justify the costs.

Question 2 – In the TVA project, there were 100 PowerLine GuardiansTM installed for 7.5 miles of transmission line. Is this an indicative device/length ratio that you expect to apply to future projects?

The device/mile ratio seen at the TVA installation is reasonably typical. This ratio is determined by the characteristics of the line (e.g. voltage, Ampacity, conductor size, etc.) and the amount of impedance change required. The number of devices scales with the compensation requirement, a typical ratio ranges from 3 to 30 devices per mile.

Question 3 – Any idea how long it would take to manufacture enough of these Guardian devices to have them on all of the country’s most stressed power lines?

Smart Wires has robust manufacturing capability that is designed to rapidly scale with market acceptance and demand. Ubiquitous deployment will not follow a simple timeline because the nation’s grid is constantly evolving creating greater need and new opportunities for this technology.

Question 4 – Could this PowerLine Guardian technology help to facilitate the integration of many small power producers into the grid (which was originally designed for a few large ones)?

Smart Wires’ distributed power flow control technology provides flexibility and situational awareness previously not available to transmission operators. This unique combination is critical to optimizing the transmission system to accommodate future generation profiles, whether sourced from distributed power producers or centralized plants.

Question 5 – What are currently the main barriers to having this technology deployed across the U.S. power grid?

As is the case with any technology being introduced to the utility industry, the technology must be proven to be reliable and valuable to ensure that the utilities are able to fulfill their mandate to deliver reliable and low-cost power to consumers. As a device exposed to the elements, the Smart Wires units must be able to withstand and operate properly under harsh environmental conditions. The new technology must seamlessly integrate with the existing equipment and control software used to operate the network. Smart Wires has followed a path to demonstrate to the industry that its products meet these requirements through its successful pilot deployments and software integration. Greater awareness and comfort with the reliability and multitude of benefits that this new technology provides are the most important necessities for quickly reaching wide scale adoption.

Thanks to those who sent questions in response to Sunday’s article and to those who take the time to read our posts here on “Plugged In.”

Scientific American: The U.S. Power Grid is in Need of a Technology Upgrade

by Melissa Lott

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Innovators gather in DC this week to discuss how to modernize the U.S. electric grid in the face of a changing electricity sector.

The ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit kicks off today in Washington DC and will highlight technologies that could fundamentally alter how the nation generates, uses, and stores electricity. In the face of a booming solar industry, stagnating residential demand, and federal policy that seems to choke off a future for new coal power plants, these technologies could answer the question of how today’s utilities can successfully adapt. But which utilities will be early adopters?

Two reports released over the past 6 months show how grid operators with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Southern Company have been able to use networks of innovative power flow control technologies to relieve stress on the nation’s electricity grid. Developed by a start-up company called Smart Wires, these devices will be featured in this week’s ARPA-E Summit Showcase. According to Smart Wires CEO Jim Davis:

The U.S. electric grid has served us extremely well for more than a century. But, now the grid is getting old and is in need of modernization through a technology upgrade if it wants to maintain reliability and adapt to the evolving market.

Smart Wires was one of the first energy technology development efforts to receive funding under the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI) Program. Initially created in 2007 when President George W. Bush signed into law The America COMPETES Act, ARPA-E received its first $400 million in appropriated funds in 2009. The GENI Program was created two years later to support technologies that could “modernize the way electricity is transmitted in the United States through advances in hardware and software.”

Today, the program boasts a portfolio of 15 projects within the 360 that ARPA-E has funded since its inception. These projects include innovations spanning from cloud computing for the grid to three power flow control technologies. The latter include three projects – a device being developed at Michigan State University that could replace expensive transformers, technology that could allow for dynamic voltage and power flow control from a start-up called Varentec, and Smart Wires’ initial distributed power flow control device.

According to ARPA-E, if successful, power-flow control devices being developed by Smart Wires could lead to a 30% improvement in the utilization of existing transmission grid infrastructure at less than half the price of the alternative transmission line upgrades. Given the more than 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines that have been strung across the continental United States over the past century, such savings would be no small matter. As a result, ARPA-E awarded the company a $4 million GENI grant in 2012 to support a two-year pilot project.

For this project, Smart Wires partnered with the federally-owned Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Originally created by congressional charter in 1933 to support the Tennessee Valley in the midst of the Great Depression, the TVA now provides electricity to approximately 9 million people across most of Tennessee as well as sections of Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.

In 2012, the TVA installed 100 of Smart Wires’ PowerLine Guardian devices and an associated wireless mesh communications network on a 7.5-mile segment of the TVA Knox-Douglas 161-kilovolt (kV) transmission line. The network was attached directly to the transmission line in order to allow grid operators to more closely monitor the status of the transmission line, push power away from the heavily loaded Knox-Douglas line onto parallel lines with more available capacity, and respond to any interruptions or events that threatened the grid’s reliability.

This project not only proved successful, but also served as a launch pad for a second project (launched without a new ARPA-E grant). In March 2013, Smart Wires and Southern Company successfully completed the installation of 33 PowerLine Guardian units on two 115-kW transmission lines (the Grady-Moreland and Grady-West End). They have subsequently doubled the system’s size to include 66 units.

The technological leap seen with the TVA and Southern Company projects is part of a larger change in a U.S. electric utility model that has changed little—save in scale—since Thomas Edison first invented the light bulb in 1879. As Robert Catell put it in 2010 at a smart grid event in New York City at NYU:

If Alexander Graham Bell returned to Earth today, the progress in telecommunications over the last 125 years would be mystifying. If Thomas Edison came back today, not only would he recognize our electricity system, he could probably fix it [when problems arise].”

While similar to the original design, today’s power grid is undeniably massive. Besides high-voltage transmission lines and the millions of miles of distribution lines connecting about 19,023 individual generators and just under 7,000 operational power plants to homes and business in the continental United States, the system’s approximately 3,200 utilities play an integral part in supplying electricity to more than 315 million people.

These utilities have thrived in an era of increasing demand, expanding their reach and realizing significant profits while relying on large, centralized power plants; but the growth of rooftop solar panels and other distributed energy sources is putting pressure on the utilities and their business models.

In response to the changing tide, several industry giants are resisting change by actively pushing policies that would limit – among other things – the widespread inclusion of distributed solar in the grid. Others are taking a wait-and-see attitude. But many utilities have chosen to adapt through technology-focused approaches or by redesigning their business strategies and policies.

In addition to the Smart Wires projects at TVA and Southern Company, Duke Energy and Exelon are investing directly in distributed solar. In Hawaii, with its more than 51,000 rooftop PV systems, major utilities including the Hawaiian Electricity Company are focusing on increasing neighbourhood circuit thresholds to make sure that they can handle the additional stress.

Internationally, E.ON has announced an aggressive plan to embrace renewables, distributed networks, and a service-based business model while spinning off its nuclear, oil, coal, and natural gas operations.  According to the company’s CEO Johannes Teyssen “We are convinced that it’s necessary to respond to dramatically altered global energy markets.

The ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit will run from February 9-11, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Summit will include discussions of innovations that could impact the entire energy system (not just electricity).

Original article.

Scientific American: Controlling the Path of Least Resistance with Smart Wires

by Melissa C. Lott

According to reports released over the past 6 months, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Southern Company have successfully deployed networks of distributed power flow control devices to relieve stress on the nation’s electricity grid. These reports document findings from two on-going large-scale projects that could represent an economic option for solving a national grid modernization challenge.

These devices were developed by Smart Wires, an aptly named start-up company based in Oakland, California. This company was one of the first technology start-ups funded by ARPA-E under their Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI) Program.

Today, Smart Wires is home to three core technologies – the PowerLine GuardianRouter, and Commander. The first two devices are power flow control hardware that are attached directly to transmission lines, while the third is a control and data aggregation software suite that is used to manage fleets of the devices once they have been installed within the transmission grid. The PowerLine Guardian was the core technology deployed in both the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Southern Company projects.

2012: large-scale pilot project begins with TVA

The TVA installation was completed in 2012 and included 100 first generation PowerLine Guardians installed on a 7.5-mile segment of the TVA Knox-Douglas 161 kilovolt (kV) transmission line. The Guardian devices and associated communications infrastructure created a meshed network capable of communicating over GSM frequency bands. This pilot project represented the first utility-scale deployment of Smart Wires technology and was supported by funds from ARPA-E.

The TVA system includes three main components:

1. PowerLine Guardians – devices attached directly to the transmission wires to increase line impedance and measure the state of that portion of the transmission grid.

2. PowerLine Commander – the software side of the system, which includes a graphical user interface (GUI), data aggregator and logger, operator log, and alert generator that the grid operator uses to manage the PowerLine Guardian fleet.

3. Cellular Enabled PowerLine Guardian – the communication bridge between the Guardian devices and the PowerLine Commander.

After initial testing, these devices were used by TVA over a continuous 12-month period in order to evaluate their ability to:

1. Reduce loading on the Knox-Douglas Line and shift this load to two alternate semi-parallel lines (a.k.a. power flow control) to varying degrees.

2. Provide real-time sensing capabilities of the devices themselves with a goal of having at least 95% of these devices available for power flow control and data collection after one year of operation.

A 2014 report by Smart Wires and TVA confirmed that the pilot system had met both of these goals.  Overall, according to their 2014 report, the network has allowed grid operators to more closely monitor the status of the Knox-Douglas transmission line, effectively push power away from this heavily loaded transmission line onto lines with more available capacity, and respond to an array of interruptions and events that could threaten the grid’s reliability.

One of the key lessons learned in this large-scale pilot project was that acoustic vibration from the PowerLine Guardian devices can have a significant effect on noise levels in the transmission right of way. According to Smart Wires, this noise has been successfully reduced in their current device using a combination of an improved bolt design and increased torque on the bolts that secure the Guardian units to the transmission lines.

2013: Commercial project kicks-off with Southern Company’s Georgia Power

In March 2013, Smart Wires and Southern Company successfully completed the installation of 33 PowerLine Guardian units on two 115-kW transmission lines (the Grady-Moreland and Grady-West End). These lines are managed by the Georgia Power Company, the largest of the four electric utilities currently owned and operated by Southern Company. The network of devices was brought online in April 2013 and run continuously for a 16-month period to test their performance.

Over the 16-month period, the devices were allowed to operate in four different modes:

1. Standby – the PowerLine Guardian unit is not able to commuicate or inject impedance into the system because the current on the transmission line is not high enough to power the device.

2. Monitoring – there is enough current available to power the device, but no impedance is being injected into the line.

3. Injection – the magnetizing inductance of the unit is being applied to the line to increase its impedance. Note that, because the operator can place individual devices in a variety of modes, the total injected impedance on the line can be changed along a range of values.

4. in extremis – where the unit protects itself from extreme conditions that could hurt the hardware (for example, fault-inducted current).

According to the report released by Smart Wires in January 2015, the network of devices was used to inject about 75% (on average) of the total possible impedance that could be achieved using the system.

Furthermore, 31 of the 33 units installed in March 2013 were still online at the end of 2014. The other two were removed from service due to failures, one due to a problem with the electrical connection between the top and bottom halves of the device, which was rectified for the current device through an improved connection design. After the initial deployment and test period, Southern Company decided to expand the system, doubling the number of installed PowerLine Guardians and working towards integration of the PowerLine Commander software with its existing Energy Management System (EMS).

Both the TVA and Southern Company projects are ongoing.  According to Smart Wires, it expects to install its PowerLine Router technology in 2016. This technology will be able to not only increase power line impedance (like the PowerLine Guardian) but also directly decrease line impedance.

Original article.