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Service to the 9's? Power Quality in a Tech-Wreck World

Why it's just as important for the old economy.
Fortnightly Magazine - February 1 2001

may be worth it for a high-tech industrial park or an Internet server office."

Nevertheless, as Winnerling adds, EPRI is looking for a way around that high cost, and for cleaner alternatives.

"We're trying to get away from lead-acid batteries-we're using ultracapacitors, for instance, and flywheels. We're also working with NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) in testing high-tech equipment with voltage sag generators to see if we can make the machines less sensitive to power quality problems.

"In fact," notes Winnerling, "on a transmission level we've got a new program called CEIDS (Consortium for Electric Infrastructure to Support a Digital Society). It's a new initiative we're kicking off to enhance the performance of the entire transmission grid, all the way down to load, to focus on serving the digital economy.

"But the one thing we don't want to do is pay for a million-dollar fix on the network side to fix what is really a $100 problem. But when we have thousands of those $100 problems, then we can start doing something on the network side."

What about neighborhoods that run entirely on direct current, called "DC microgrids," designed to integrate electricity use with fuel cell technologies?

"We're doing research on using DC current inside individual buildings, such as in a high-tech area. In theory, all that Internet equipment doesn't need an AC power supply; it could run on DC. But any time you convert AC to DC you may create more power quality problems. And the equipment creates nonsinosoidal (distorted) wave currents (harmonics) in a backward direction back into the utility distribution network."

Then does distributed generation pose the same risk?

"One of the things we're doing now," says Sitzlar in Tennessee, "and which we haven't done in the past, is research work on distributed generation.

"We have created a power quality DG laboratory here-it's the only one in the country-to try to figure out how to integrate DG economically into the power system.

"We're testing in both directions. We're measuring the impact of the utility system power quality on the DG facilities, and then the impact of the output of the distributed resource on the power system. We'll be looking at things like running DG systems in parallel, and whether the distributed generation unit is synchronized with the grid."

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