Schneider Electric wins part of £10m project to deliver new ‘variable voltage’ grid infrastructure

Electricity pylonsBy DARA BUTTERFIELD

Schneider Electric, the energy management specialist, is taking part in a £9.5 million government initiative to modernise the UK energy infrastructure to cope with the unprecedented changes in patterns of energy consumption, generation and distribution.

The project, to be trialled on Western Power Distribution’s residential network, will involve the installation of high-performance power electronic converters (PECs) using low cost silicon carbide switching devices into the meter-box of individual properties. This is hoped to allow the grid to cope with an increasingly complex picture in part contributed by solar panels, electric cars causing “unprecedented patterns in network load”.

The trial aims to deliver a ‘dramatic increase’ in the capacity of our existing residential energy infrastructure by increasing the local network voltage. This approach will allow the grid to simultaneously deliver different voltages for different requirements (i.e. charging an electric car and simultaneously providing a constant 240v for a residential building).

In order to achieve the required level of performance, efficiency, stability and sustainability at the cost demanded, these PECs will use innovative low cost silicon carbide (SiC) switching devices built using Anvil’s unique SiC-on –silicon technology.

By 2020 the UK is expected to have 10 million homes with solar panels and the number of electric vehicles sold will increase to 6.4 million by 2023. As a result the existing energy infrastructure, designed for a one way flow of energy, will have to deal with unprecedented patterns in network load. The challenge of integrating distributed power generation, with traditional larger scale energy generation presents new risks in terms of voltage control and predicting load and demand.

Barrie Cressey, Smart Grid Director, Schneider Electric UK, said: “Silicon carbide switches have been prohibitively expensive to manufacture and deliver to UK homes and businesses. This project will look at how we can utilise highly innovative manufacturing techniques to break down the barriers and build these intelligent devices into the fabric of our energy infrastructure.

“There is some incredible work going on in the sustainability and energy space. It’s our mission to ensure consumers and businesses across Britain can benefit from the ground-breaking research and technical innovations that are happening in the energy industry.”

This project will look to increase the UK’s energy network capacity to tackle residential and commercial needs. Schneider Electric is joined by Western Power Distribution, Anvil Semiconductors, Turbo Power Systems, Aston University and Exception EMS in the design and delivery of this project.

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