Solid-State Transformers Will Make the Smart Grid Run Smoother


Old transformers could get new upgrades to smart solid-state transformers as the smart grid grows. Photo by doug_wertman via Flickr Creative Commons

As the smart grid grows, smarter technologies are be needed to handle issues like incorporating renewable energy, fast charging times for electric vehicles, and energy flowing into the grid from homes and businesses with their own solar arrays or wind turbines. In response to this need, companies are coming up with ways to beef up the "muscle" of the smart grid -- transformers. And that includes making them solid-state. Technology Review reports on the research:

The new solid-state transformers are much more flexible. They use transistors and diodes and other semiconductor-based devices that, unlike the transistors used in computer chips, are engineered to handle high power levels and very fast switching. In response to signals from a utility or a home, they can change the voltage and other characteristics of the power they produce. They can put out either AC or DC power, or take in AC and DC power from wind turbines and solar panels and change the frequency and voltage to what's needed for the grid. They have processors and communications hardware built in, allowing them to communicate with utility operators, other smart transformers, and consumers.

Such smart transformers will enable car owners to charge their vehicles at home in under an hour with less wasted electricity, and several cars on the same block could all be charging at the same time without overloading the circuits. That means solid state transformers could enable the growth of affordable all-electric vehicles.

That's not the only financial boon solid-state transformers that can handle two-way power flow could provide to consumers and businesses. In terms of allowing electricity generated by businesses to be added to the grid, Technology Review reports that "Smart transformers could coordinate this potentially rapid change from buying to selling power, while keeping the grid stable and preventing neighbors' lights from dimming. They could even allow people to buy electricity from their neighbors."

While the new generation of solid-state transformers are still being developed by a range of companies, it's likely we'll see them begin to roll out in just a few years as part of trials and pilot programs. But in the long term, those in the industry are confident that solid-state transformers will be a significant piece of the smart grid puzzle.

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Tags: Electricity | Electronics | Energy Efficiency | Utilities

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