How good electrical systems are the key to smart city success. Steve Hughes reports
The race is on to develop smart cities of the future that are cleaner, greener, easier to navigate and better to live in. The prospect of living in a place where utilities, roads and even buildings work in harmony to make life easier, all while reducing environmental impact, may still seem farfetched, but it's quickly becoming a reality.
If you have recently visited Amsterdam, Barcelona, Stockholm, or even sunny Milton Keynes, you’ve already sampled a smart city. A concept that has been around for nearly a decade, a smart city is a community that uses digital, electronic and information technology (IT) to provide a better quality of life that is both environmentally and economically sustainable.
Although most technology that will facilitate the creation of smart cities exists already, there are still some key considerations that need to be addressed to make sure power quality doesn’t hold us back.
1. Harmonic mitigation will reduce energy-grid consumption
The past decade has seen a boom in non-linear loads or active components. Everything from the switch-mode power supply (SMPS) in your PC, to the variable speed drive (VSD) controlling the motor making your ready meals, is increasingly complex.
These active elements convert energy from DC to AC to power most devices we use daily while also providing the mains electricity for our buildings and transport systems. This conversion process creates high frequency electrical noise, known as harmonic currents. These extraneous frequencies can cause problems including overheating, spikes, voltage ripples, electrical flicker, electromagnetic interference (EMI) on data lines and unnecessary energy consumption.
So, we’re bound to see an uptake of harmonic mitigation technologies to make the electrical grid more efficient and reduce energy consumption. Facilities managers, plant engineers, and business leaders will need to employ tactics, such as simple harmonic mitigation filters, to keep harmonics away from the mains network.
2. Portable medical technology will need mains-isolation
Whether it's the phone in your pocket or the fitness band on your wrist, most modern technology can be used as a medical device, and there’s an increasing number of consumer devices being used in professional medical environments.
The problem is that consumer devices weren’t intended for use in medical and patient environments as the power supply in desktop electronics and the charging equipment for battery-powered devices can negatively affect the power quality of the mains electricity network. This means that mains-powered medical equipment could be adversely affected by electromagnetic interference (EMI), leading to inaccurate readings and posing a potential risk of electrical shock to patients.
To combat this, electrical isolation equipment, such as REO’s range of medical isolation devices, will become more commonplace. Our range of REOMED medical transformers, for example, provides safe galvanic separation between the primary and secondary electrical circuits to protect patients.
3. Aluminium windings and ingress protection for electric vehicles
The utopian dream of self-driving, autonomous vehicles is almost within reach. With many test projects already underway, it is clear that electric vehicles will feature heavily in cities of the future.
One of the biggest barriers to widespread adoption has been battery technology. The power-to-weight ratio and longevity of the battery, as well as charging infrastructure, need to be addressed. While making batteries more powerful is the most obvious approach, reducing the weight of the car and its powertrain is more efficient and cost effective.
Electric car systems of the future will use lightweight aluminium rather than the copper-wound induction motor technology common today. However, because terminal connections between aluminium and copper can result in contact corrosion, we will simultaneously see increased use of ingress protection to prevent water and dust penetrating electric motors.
So there we have it; the top three power quality trends key to smart city success. It's clear that small changes to our infrastructure, health systems and transport networks will lead to significant improvement in the world around us. So, although it may seem an unassuming city just north of London, Milton Keynes may be more inspirational than it seems!
Steve Hughes is managing director of REO UK.