Sunday, April 21, 2024

Energy Sector Sees Innovation Across the Value Chain

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M2M communication in energy management
Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication plays a key role in energy management across segments and applications.

“For example, a smart grid can use innovative M2M communication to create a single integrated service that monitors and controls flows, ensures the safety of the smart grid network and delivers the peak demand when necessary. M2M can make homes, buildings and industrial units smarter by allowing the consumption of services such as energy to be closely monitored and managed more effectively over their lifecycle. It also enables energy and utility providers to efficiently collect meter data and provide two-way communication and tailored offers for their residential, commercial and industrial customers,” says Chopra.

Vodafone provides a range of M2M solutions for energy management, including managed connectivity, powered by the M2M service platform, private APN services for secured connectivity, private static IP solution and special industry-grade SIM cards. These solutions are already used by utilities for smart metering as part of their automation programmes and as part of the central government driven R-APDRP programme.

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“M2M solutions are helping utilities to provide a secure and sustainable future for all,” adds Chopra.

Solar to the rescue
Traditional sources of energy are fast depleting, and solar is rising to the occasion as a brilliant alternative. There are industrial as well as consumer-level products and solutions in this space, and their efficiency and costs are driven largely by developments in the field of electronics.

“Solar photovoltaic deployment on rooftops, seemingly simple, is potentially revolutionary. It upsets the traditional centralised model of electricity generation and its transmission and distribution. We no longer know what the optimum size, for instance, of the electricity generation solution is. We have assumed that large-scale coal or nuclear projects, or large dams, are optimal. Are they? Can we have community- or household-level and cost-effective electricity? The innovation potential from solar distributed generation and from the use of micro-grids is enormous. It can fragment and fray the edges of the current industry structure,” says professor Mahesh P. Bhave, visiting professor-Strategy, IIM Kozhikode, setting us thinking on the right lines.

Solar photovoltaic deployment on rooftops, seemingly simple, is potentially revolutionary
Solar photovoltaic deployment on rooftops, seemingly simple, is potentially revolutionary

He adds, “Solar is taking off in India, albeit far too slowly. Notice the Railway Minister’s budget speech—the railways are rightly emphasising solar deployment. They can hasten the process.”

Signifying the rising demand for solar energy, we now see semiconductor companies across the world taking a huge interest in improving photovoltaic (PV) technology and offering better solutions for the solar energy sector. “Today, to cater to the needs of the solar energy market, there are a range of new semiconductor products and solutions, with high performance and high efficiency, dedicated specifically to photovoltaic applications, for the major grid-tied architectures and for solar battery applications,” says Mongia.

Consider, for example, STMicroelectronics’ portfolio of photovoltaic ICs, which includes cool bypass switches designed to improve the reliability of panel electronics, and DC-DC converters with built-in maximum power point tracking (MPPT), which maximise power conversion of solar panels independent of temperature and the amount of solar irradiation. The new ‘cool bypass’ devices minimise internal energy losses when routing high-efficiency solar power, by combining efficient power switching and intelligent control in a single chip to compensate for the variable effects of hotspots and shadows on the solar panel surface. These devices can recover and save up to 1 per cent of the energy produced and normally lost through conventional bypass diodes.

“And, we are not standing still. Even our cool bypass devices have now moved onto the next generation of ‘Iceberg’ devices. ST has introduced several innovative technologies that improve efficiency in solar-power converters, including our proprietary MDmesh and STripFETTM VII DeepGATETM power MOSFETs that ensure ultra-low-loss performance, trench-gate field-stop IGBTs, and the second generation of silicon-carbide (SiC) Schottky diodes for minimising switching losses and improving thermal performance in solar-power systems, where capturing every fractional improvement in energy efficiency is valuable. ST’s trials, using the company’s latest 1200V silicon carbide diodes, have delivered a 2 per cent increase in overall inverter yield, even when operating at a high load and high frequency,” says Mongia.

Micro-inverter-based solar grids
Current-generation solar devices implement the MPPT algorithm to maximise the energy produced from each solar panel at any panel temperature and radiation condition. This maximises the overall efficiency of the photovoltaic system. This may be implemented traditionally or using a distributed approach.

“The traditional grid-tier architecture of photovoltaic systems concentrates all the electronics in the central inverter. This is the centralised approach. The trend today is to move towards the distributed approach where the electronics is partially or fully distributed close to each panel. This is beneficial in terms of global system energy production, reliability, communications and monitoring,” says Mongia.

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