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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Interview with Gregorio Cappuccino

Gregorio Cappuccino, an IEEE senior member, is a member of the IEEE Technical Committee on Analog and Signal Processing, a member of the Advisory Committee for the IEEE Transportation Electrification Initiative and associate editor for the Journal of Circuits, Systems and Computers and the Journal of Low Power Electronics and Applications. He is an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science Engineering, Modeling, Electronics, and Systems at the University of Calabria, Italy.

Gregorio Cappuccino, an IEEE senior member, is a member of the IEEE Technical Committee on Analog and Signal Processing, a member of the Advisory Committee for the IEEE Transportation Electrification Initiative and associate editor for the Journal of Circuits, Systems and Computers and the Journal of Low Power Electronics and Applications. He is an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science Engineering, Modeling, Electronics, and Systems at the University of Calabria, Italy.

In this interview, Gregorio Cappuccino discusses technologies and markets for energy storage, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) applications and his view of international efforts in grid modernization.

Question: What is your view of IEEE’s work as it relates to grid modernization?

IEEE is playing a fundamental role in smart grid, from standardization to security, as well as raising public awareness of the necessity of grid modernization. Moreover, IEEE plays an important role in collaborating with the work of governments, national electric organizations, councils, commissions and manufacturer associations around the world.

Question: How would you describe the role of energy storage in smart grid?

Storage belongs in two different classes: one is utility-scale, characterized by bulk, concentrated storage facilities managed by utilities and big industrial players; the other is a constellation of smaller systems, distributed across the utility’s service territory.

The two classes generally rely on different technologies and have different scopes. The existing distribution grids in certain countries are able to support utility-grade systems, in terms of the power flow as well as a two-way communications network. Significant benefits from storage may be near in terms of these myriad, small storage devices on the distribution system, which can facilitate the integration of grid-tied renewables.

Yet the distribution system needs still deeper development, from the introduction of advanced metering and communication networks to modifying their topologies to implement distributed intelligence and more effective interconnections between local nodes of the network.

Question: How will storage fit into the market as the grid is modernized?

Conventional wisdom says that smart grid acceptance depends on end-use customers and the opportunity to actively participate in an energy market may convince skeptical customers. A successful business model for storage should address gaps between customers and utilities, creating financial incentives for all stakeholders. However, that might require an organization at the regional or national level to define market rules and verify their application.

Question: What technical or market changes are needed to make vehicle-to-grid (V2G) a reality?

The main need involves technology: V2G should be an energy reserve for actual grid needs. Due to the amount of available energy in each vehicle, effective exploitation relies on very fast discharge from each single node. That must be managed based on a deep knowledge of battery technology and behavior – the battery’s life cycle, its charge and discharge capabilities, charger/inverter characteristics, etc.

This creates a challenge for communication and control systems in terms of reaction time and reliability that goes beyond what’s needed for static storage. However, vehicle manufacturers still underestimate the higher commercial appeal that superior V2G performance could bestow on a vehicle, in terms of energy capacity or conversion efficiency. V2G technology could become a market differentiator among electric vehicles (EVs).

Conversely, to produce significant benefits for utilities or grid operators, the V2G business case may require a critical mass of EVs. And if high EV penetration occurs in clusters, of course, utilities must prepare the distribution system for potentially high loads on local circuits.

The V2G game has three main players: utilities, grid operators and vehicle owners. Each player invests money and actively participates. What’s amazing is that the game is worth playing even with a small number of vehicles. The vehicle as storage device is available randomly, in time and space and in terms of its net amount of available energy. To take advantage of the available energy will require the development of infrastructure that’s capable not only of transferring the energy, but also provides accurate and swift monitoring of all the terminal nodes of the grid.

Question: How will charging priorities be determined in a free market in the smart grid era?

Prioritized charging may be a service that the utility or municipality will offer – and customers should be willing to pay for it. The cost will make the EV owner reflect upon whether fast charging for their vehicle really is needed.

If simultaneous charging requests exceed available power, then customers might be prioritized for charging based on fees for “first-class service,” for instance. Priority has a value, both economical and functional. A coherent pricing policy is probably the best solution. Everyone should become aware that energy has a real cost that depends on how, where, when and the duration in which it is produced and consumed.

In the case of natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, emergency responders using EVs at a particular time and place could be assigned top priority by vehicle ID or class. Conversely, an energy reserve could be created using a fleet of EVs, to be called on when needed by a V2G operation.

Question: You’ve written that EV charging systems may schedule charging only after certain information is exchanged between the EV owner and the utility. Would you extrapolate?

This would be an automated process that takes into account the unique individual circumstances of each EV owner to determine the charging parameters. The timing of EV charging or discharging and the amount of energy needed from or returned to the grid will determine the value of the transaction, because the market value of the energy in both cases is time sensitive.

Question: Define “smart charging”? What hurdles remain to achieve it?

“Smart charging” means that the grid-to-vehicle energy flow adapts dynamically to the needs of both the grid and the user. One hurdle to implementation is the understanding that neither fast charging nor slow charging is always the best solution. The best charging practice is one that meets the needs of the specific situation, and allows both grid and customer targets (saving money, avoiding grid overload, charging duration) to be met.

Question: Would you tell us about the IEEE Transportation Electrification Initiative and how it relates to the smart grid?

The IEEE Transportation Electrification Initiative’s mandate states that it “shall seek to accelerate the development and implementation of new technologies for the electrification of transportation which is manifested in the electric vehicles of today and the future.” Integration with the grid is one of those technologies.

Question: Would you describe your work on the IEEE Technical Committee on Analog and Signal Processing?

The Analog Signal Processing committee of the IEEE Circuits and Systems Society focuses mainly on the theory, analysis, design and practical implementation of analog circuits. One focus is on the application of analog circuits’ theoretical techniques to system and signal processing, ranging from basic scientific theory to industrial application.

What makes a grid “smart” is primarily the additional functionalities enabled by the exchange of heterogeneous information. This information is generally related to natural physical quantities, requiring, first, analog circuits for conditioning and preliminary processing. This is particularly true in the case of my work on smart charging: a fundamental portion of circuits and systems used to implement smart chargers both for stationary energy storage and for electric transportation are analog.

Question: Where progress on smart grid is slow, what factors are involved?

The pace of smart grid deployment has been significantly boosted by government policies and funding for greenhouse gas reduction and infrastructure development. This is missing in countries where smart grid deployment is in its early stages.

Question: Apart from system efficiencies, what are the values that drive the smart grid vision?

More effective resource management by utilities, oriented towards better service to customers, should be one of the most important drivers in the grid of the future.

Question: Would you compare and contrast Europe and the United States on their respective progress on smarter grids?

These two global regions are transitioning to smarter grids at different paces. The impression is that in the U.S., the main drivers appear to be short-term operational utility benefits, to improve grid reliability by reducing peak loads and/or unbalanced conditions, with the potential to add dynamic rates. In Europe, the main motivation is reducing CO2 emissions, as well as improving grid efficiency and integrating renewable resources.

These different drivers result in differences in end-user acceptance, a key factor in the success of smart grids. While two dogs strive for a bone, however, a third runs away with it. The Asia-Pacific region represents the most challenging markets where smart grids could achieve large-scale implementation, if enlightened regulatory and funding initiatives are enacted.

Question: What are you working on at CalBatt that relates to grid modernization?

At Calbatt we are involved in the development of electronic systems for high-efficiency battery-based energy storage.

In addition to smart chargers designed for maximum efficiency, we are also developing smart meters that combine important features of real-time monitoring of the main characteristics of chargers and batteries in the storage system with predictive features of system performance under various operating conditions.

Our smart meters are designed to provide a user-friendly interface and communication capabilities which allow either the final user or a remote grid manager to set the charging parameters for efficiency and cost optimization. This innovation is fundamental to modern grid infrastructure both for industrial and household storage applications and for charging electric vehicles, because it manages energy storage or extraction from a battery-based energy storage system at the best possible efficiency level, taking into account actual conditions on the grid.

Gregorio Cappuccino works on architecture and electronic systems for high-efficiency charging of batteries for electric vehicles and grid storage. He sits on the IEEE Technical Committee on Analog and Signal Processing and the Advisory Committee for the IEEE Transportation Electrification Initiative and edits two IEEE journals. He is an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science Engineering, Modeling, Electronics, and Systems at the University of Calabria, Italy, and CEO of CalBatt, which specializes in the development of high efficiency charger technologies.

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