Redefining Alternative Energy and the Smart Grid

Jason Lomberg, Editor, North America, PSD



Renewable energy is booming in the United States.

“We live in a world bathed in 5,000 times more energy than we consume as a species in the year, in the form of solar energy. It's just not in usable form yet.”

- Peter Diamandis, author and founder and chairman of the X Prize Foundation

We’ve never been closer to commercializing viable replacements for fossil fuels, but we’ve got a ways to go – the white ball in the sky remains a largely untapped resource, and alternative energy is still mostly … an alternative.

Right now, China retains a confident lead in global solar power generation (ironic, since it also leads the world in CO2 emissions – 10,641,789 kt, accounting for nearly 30% of the Earth’s total). The 850 MW Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, in Qinghai, China is the largest of its kind, and as of 2016, China leads the world in solar power generation with 34.54 GW.

The global solar market grew by more than 50% from 2015-2016, going from 50 GW to 74.4 GW, and while U.S. solar doubled from 7.3 to 14.7 GW, Chinese photovoltaics dwarfed America’s. But not all renewable energy favors the People’s Republic – while China has more than double the wind power installed capacity (168,732 MW vs. 82,184 MW), the US has some especially efficient wind farms, and America leads China in wind power production at 190 million megawatt-hours (MWh) vs. 185.1 million MWh. And according to the American Wind Energy Association, wind should supply 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030.

And our industry is making great strides towards viable solar power and a comprehensive smart grid. Our partner companies provide a tantalizing snapshot of renewable energy’s future.

We’ve known about the intrinsic advantages of capacitors since the late 19th century, but we’ve only recently explored the potential of power film capacitors for renewable energy and the smart grid. John Gallipeau, Technical Marketing Manager (Power Film Capacitors) with AVX, explores these applications in our June issue with the aptly-titled piece “Power Film Capacitors Prove Effective in Renewable Energy and Smart Grid Technology.”

John notes that capacitors best comparable technologies with the highest power density, which helps mitigate the uncontrolled power output of renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Capacitors charge and discharge faster than batteries (making the former ideal for instant power) and polypropylene power film capacitors work well in high-voltage power applications because of their high dielectric strength, low volumetric mass, and extremely low dielectric constant.

As an example of a polypropylene metallized segmented film capacitor, John points out AVX’s six-terminal FFLC Series power film capacitor, which is ideal for DC filtering in wind turbines and is a fully dry technology. Read John’s article for more information on this and power film capacitors in general.

Meanwhile, Swiss-based LEM discusses a new smart grid application in “Smart Building Energy Disaggregation Submeter with LEM Split-core CT ATO.” Their article describes a Non-Intrusive Appliance Load Monitoring (NIALM) method which uses a single point of power measurement, combined with special signal processing techniques, to obtain appliance-specific data by the disaggregation of total power consumption data acquired at the main breaker level. LEM’s ATO split core current transformers are the only products of their type certified to IEC 61869-2 standard with an adapted voltage output of 333 mV and 225 mV at IPr. For more, see LEM’s article in this issue.

Renewable energy may be in its (relative) infancy, but since fossil fuels are, by definition, finite, we’ll need to engineer renewable solutions sooner rather than later. And our industry is poised to take the lead on this enormously important social, philosophical, and technological issue.