PSES Symposium Reviews Smart Grid Equipment Safety Issues

Today is the second day of the Product Safety Engineering Society’s (PSES) 3-day IEEE Symposium on Product Compliance Engineering in Boston, Massachusetts.  In attendance and taking notes is Rick Cooper, MET Laboratories’ Director of Laboratory Operations, Safety Laboratory. 

“Safety Considerations for Smart Grid Technology Equipment” was presented today by Don Geis of Alcatel-Lucent.  Here are his key points:

The Smart Grid merges many technologies:

  • Power systems
  • Information technology
  • Telecommunications
  • Switchgear

The smart grid is viewed like the Internet; no one is sure what it will look like in the future.

The main function of the smart grid is to manage power consumption in optimal ways.  It is viewed as a necessary next step in order to modernize the grid.

The first IEEE-convened conference on smart grid technology was held at NIST on October 4-6, 2010, yet no one was able to say for sure how the smart grid is going to be implemented.

The development of the current electrical grid is noted by the National Academy of Engineering as the most important achievement of the 20th century.  The Obama administration is committed to the smart grid.

The current electrical grid would be recognizable by Thomas Edison; that’s how old the current technology is. 

Alcatel-Lucent recommends a modular approach to smart grid products:

  • Use the current safety meter standard
  • Apply requirements for information technology from applicable standard
  • Apply requirements for telecommunications technology from applicable standard

IEC 62368-1 – hazard-based safety engineering – can be used as a basis.

For now, it is thought that IEC 60950-1 will be used for equipment that contains telecommunication or information technology equipment.  In addition, use IEC 60950-22 to address outdoor equipment.

There is no reason to believe that utility-owned equipment will be viewed/handled any differently than has been done in the past, at least for the foreseeable future.

We can expect some traditional appliances (washers, dryers, refrigerators and thermostats) to eventually be able to communicate on the grid, so that they can be an effective part of a smart grid.

Typical smart grid products are subject to overvoltage category III or IV, while IT products are traditionally only subject to overvoltage category II; will probably require surge protection or other protection as it may not be possible to increase spacing.

For peak demand cycles, it is expected that energy storage will continue to be a requirement; this may extend to residential application, as opposed to the traditional commercial location.

Special safety concern: Islanding. Locally-generated power must sense when the grid has failed, and cease to energize the grid, otherwise utility workers may be exposed to a hazard.

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