A next-gen smart electric power grid

The Next Generation of Electric Power Grid Designs

Due in large part to population growth, a massive power sector transformation is already underway to meet the aggressive needs of a decarbonizing economy. This power sector transformation aims at transitioning to low-emission generation sources and focusing on grid resilience. Old, static grids are also due for a transformation, and next-gen electric power grid designs are helping in this regard. Here’s an in-depth look at some of the most important next-gen electric power grid design elements.

Major Elements of Next-Gen Electric Power Grid Design

Irrespective of the source of generation (renewable or nonrenewable), optimal power grid design should focus on energy storage, power stability, and transmission optimization. Listed below are a few essential elements that aid towards designing a reliable power grid.

  • Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) - Storage
    Environmental concerns have put more emphasis on eco-friendly energy sources instead of fossil fuels. However, effectively storing and reproducing the former remains a challenge. To modernize storage options, BESS has become the new norm. These systems can store energy from different sources for reliable use when required. They usually consist of individual battery cells operating under a battery management system (BMS). Energy is monitored and controlled within the system while keeping the batteries safe from temperature fluctuations via an energy management system.
  • Dynamic Line Rating (DLR) - Stability
    The current carrying capacities of transmission lines are limited by thermal limits triggered by line temperatures, weather, and ground clearance. Therefore, the maximum thermal limit of a line can be calculated using DLR technology. DLR technology involves monitoring line conditions through mounted sensors and validating weather conditions in real-time to schedule maximum power transfers through a smart communication network powered by energy management systems (EMS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.Benefits include significant capacity improvement, congestion relief thanks to accurate analysis of transmission capacity, major reduction of congestion costs, and improved situational awareness (e.g. for icy conditions, heavy solar exposure, etc.)
  • Topology Optimization - Stability and T&D
    Topology refers to the way grids are interconnected to each other. There could be several topologies, including ring, mesh, star, line, tree, or bus.Electric power grid topologies can be messy, often featuring different ways to transfer power from one node to another. Switching lines in and out is a commonly used technique to optimize power flow and cost of transmission. However, with a continuous increase in the number of lines and generators, topology optimization has become a challenge for next-gen electric power grid systems.Modern topology control methods lack rigorous analysis and often result in overlooked opportunities for improvement. Adopting advanced technologies can help. For instance, leveraging a “digital twin” model—or a twin computer model of the physical infrastructure—can help operators better evaluate topologies and devise optimal switching options. An optimized grid topology improves grid operation and reduces congestion. With proper evaluation of switching options, it becomes easier to mitigate abnormal conditions and improve grid reliability.
  • Large-Scale Energy Storage
    Since next-gen electric power grid designs prioritize harvesting energy from renewable sources, large-scale energy storage is imperative. Having a large-scale storage system improves the grid's energy system resilience towards demand changes, outages, and service interruptions. Lithium-ion batteries are one of the most effective options in this regard as they have high-energy density and long operational lifespans. And with a reliable PE (power electronic) system, Li-ion batteries can ensure a reliable power flow at the required voltage/current level.

PE Systems for Next-Gen Electric Power Grid Design

Properly utilizing emerging PE technologies can aid in grid modernization, including reliability, resilience, affordability, power quality, and efficiency. Some of the major PE blocks of a next-gen electric power grid design include:

  • High-voltage direct transmission (HVDC)
    Unlike AC, there are no capacitance or inductance effects involved in a DC transmission. As a result, HVDC transmission ensures higher energy transfer per square meter than HVAC transmission with less requirements.
  • Flexible AC Transmission System (FACTS)
    A FACTS is an ideal transmission network for next-gen grids that offers expedient voltage regulation while improving network stability via reactive power compensation.
  • Solid State Power Substations
    A substation serves as a hub for voltage transformation and electrical isolation between two nodes of a power grid. SSPS represents virtual substations that can automate energy flow between loads and sources using embedded intelligence and distributed control architecture.
  • Multi-Port Power Electronics
    The concept of multiport power electronic interface (MPEI) is currently under development to facilitate simultaneous use and storage of renewable energy without excessive burden on the current power network.

Switching to modern PE blocks can reduce O&M costs while increasing response time. However, optimal performance hinges on the design and manufacturing of reliable PCB boards with the right materials.

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Selecting the Right PCB Materials for Next-Gen Electric Power Grid Design

Although circuit boards cannot be seen directly in a design blueprint, they comprise an essential design element for nearly all modules. Unlike domestic voltage, a power grid deals with the bulk transmission of power that may range up to 765KV (EHVAC). Thus, high voltage (HV) boards are mostly used for grid design.

However, the reliable operation and durability of HV boards depends on the selection of board materials and the latter’s resilience to contingencies such as high voltage arcing. Poor materials will have low dielectric breakdown strength, breaking at high voltages and affecting the signal integrity of the voltage. To combat the issue, selecting the right HV board materials is a must. Here’s what you should focus on:

  • Substrate: PCB substrates with high Coefficient of Thermal Expansion (CTE) offer good thermal dissipation.
  • Copper: Rough copper improves bond area and the peel strength of your laminate, but at the cost of conductor and insertion loss.
  • Conformal coating: Conformal coating on PCBs increases dielectric strength between traces, improves corrosion resistance, and protects from spray, moisture, and other environmental contaminants.

There are other HV board design considerations to follow. For example, it’s crucial to optimize creepage and clearance distance as per IEC 60950-1 and/or UL-60950-1 standards. Additionally, opt for best surface finishes to protect copper traces and strengthen solder connections. Partnering with an experienced CM can help you overcome these challenges with ease.

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Tempo Automation excels in producing high-performance energy boards for power grid operation. We have the experience and resources you need to overcome challenges during the early phase of electric power grid design.

Tempo employs a white-box turnkey PCBA manufacturing process that promotes collaboration and transparency between engineers and CMs. This allows us to quickly deliver high-quality boards for both standard and non-standard designs that meet energy industry criteria for prototyping and on-demand production. We also provide downloadable DRC files in Altium Designer, Cadence Allegro, Mentor Pads, other CAD formats, and Excel.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information on CAD files or how to incorporate your design into a CAD format, contact us.

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