Monthly Archives: June 2013

The post-Sandy electric grid

Recent, prolonged power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy and other severe weather events caused many people to ask themselves as a homeowner or business person, “What can I do to operate my home or business and maintain safety, basic amenities and the information and communications I need when the grid is down?”

Those who can afford it install backup engine/turbine generators, but fuel can be difficult to obtain during emergencies. And backup engine/turbine generators still burn carbon and are not particularly efficient. A more convenient and sustainable solution may eventually include installing DC sources (e.g., solar photovoltaic panels, fuel cells, battery storage, even EVs/PHEVs) that directly power DC end uses on the premises, including lighting, computers, other electronics and appliances. The steadily declining cost and improving performance of all of those DC sources will accelerate uptake. In fact, DC end uses make up a rapidly increasing proportion of total retail energy consumption. Of course, today’s electric end uses, including electronics, are wired for AC, and appliances driven by electric motors (refrigeration, compression, transport) will likely continue to be, so this solution won’t happen quickly and it’s not comprehensive. But affordable DC-to-DC subsystems will find a market.

The value of these “nanogrids” will not be limited to backup for occasional grid outages. Customers may continue to operate them as isolated systems even when the grid power is available to displace utility costs, reduce their carbon footprint, improve energy sustainability, avoid transients and harmonics from the AC grid, or just achieve some measure of independence and control.

Many utilities are pondering that now. In the near term, unless it is limited to charging batteries with grid power, these nanogrids will reduce total energy consumption and, therefore, reduce an electric utility’s revenues. But the utility may not experience an equal reduction in costs, so that may lead to kilowatt-hour price increases. The potential for decreased revenue is why utilities have focused on demand response instead of energy efficiency and conservation. Customer self-sufficiency also undercuts efforts by investor-owned utilities to invest in and earn a return on their infrastructure, not to mention the foundation for their good credit in the financial markets. And it introduces new variables and complexity to the operation of the legacy grid.

The fact remains that utilities cannot spend their way to a perfectly reliable grid, and their customers cannot tolerate being without power for days or even weeks. At the same time, legislators and regulators are becoming more aggressive in requiring that utilities increase their conservation and renewable energy efforts as well as reduce their carbon emissions. Utilities must get ahead of the curve and offer alternatives to customers or the dreaded disintermediaries will.

Solar PV is already being deployed widely in both developed and developing economies. Two drivers push down the cost of solar PV: First, the cost of the technology itself, which is declining steadily, and second, the cost of manufacturing, which decline with economies of scale. The world’s emerging economies will adopt solar PV systems in such quantities that global prices will drop low enough to energize customers in the U.S. and other developed countries to adopt them. Most of the global population does not already have a legacy, centralized power grid. And less than one-fourth of the world’s population uses more than three-fourths of the world’s electric energy. More than a billion and a half people in the world have no access to electricity at all. The rest of the world will catch up.

A relatively modest solar PV array for DC-based electrical loads that include LED lighting, Internet access, computing and telecommunications could not only change a person’s life, it could also benefit commercial facilities and entire industries, and drive economic growth in economies lacking a centralized grid. The number of kilowatt hours needed is modest in large sectors of emerging economies — just a fraction of the energy density Americans enjoy. So I don’t think this is much of a stretch. In fact, I’m sure it’s being done now. And when that movement takes off, it’ll bring economies of scale to PV production and Americans will adopt this form of DC generation in much greater numbers.

Limited Edition Mopar 13 Dodge Dart priced under $27k

The Mopar 13 Dodge Dart follows in the footsteps of the Mopar 10 Dodge Challenger, the Mopar 11 Dodge Charger and the Mopar 13 Chrysler 300C – beginning with a Pitch Black exterior finish that covers pretty much everything from front to back. The body panels, the exterior mirrors, the door handles, the grille and the grille fillers are all black as are the package specific 18 inch Mopar wheels. The blacked out treatment continues into the new ground effects package that gives the Mopar 13 Dart a far more aggressive look with a chin spoiler, a rear diffuser and a low profile decklid spoiler.

The exterior upgrades are finished off – again like the previous Mopar vehicles – with a Mopar Blue “driver’s stripe” running from the front to the back and chrome Mopar badging on the trunk lid and in the grille. The exterior also includes a set of black chrome headlight bezels and the gorgeous LED “racetrack” taillight that are not specific to the Mopar package but they are features that are most certainly worth mentioning.

On the inside, the Mopar 13 begins with all of the standard goodies of the Dodge Dart Limited but Mopar has added unique Katzkin leather seats with a Mopar blue Katzkin leather driver’s seat with black stitching, black Katzkin leather passenger and rear seats both of which feature blue accent stitching, a black leather wrapped steering wheel with blue stitching and a black leather shift knob – also with blue accent stitching.

Next, a black chrome instrument panel, Mopar Blue interior accent lighting, a Mopar pedal kit, Mopar doorsill guards, Mopar premium floormats, a serialized dash plaque with the number out of 500 and a Mopar wireless charging pad. This is in addition to all of the standard features of the Dart Limited like the 7” TFT customizable gauge cluster and the huge 8.4” infotainment screen.

Finally, no Mopar vehicle would be complete without some performance enhancements so the Mopar 13 Dart begins with the optional 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that sends 160 horsepower and 184lb-ft of torque to the front wheels via a proper 6-speed manual transmission. Next, Mopar added a cat back exhaust system, a sport tuned suspension system that allows the Mopar 13 to sit about 7mm lower than the standard Dart Limited and a performance braking package that included slotted front rotors and high friction pads.

In the long run, the actual Mopar 13 package consists of the blue driver’s stripe, the black 18” wheels, the ground effects package, the Mopar badging, the unique Katzkin leather front and rear seats, the leather covered steering wheel and shift knob, the blue interior lighting, a serialized Mopar 13 badge, a collection of black interior trim pieces, sport tuned suspension, the performance front brake package and Mopar exhaust – with a package price of $4,190. When you look at all of the unique features of the limited edition Mopar 14, the package price doesn’t seem like that big of an increase…especially when you consider the fact that only 500 examples of this sporty compact sedan will be built so this Mopar-designed Dart is an instant collectable.

Some Mopar lovers have questioned the decision to use the front wheel drive Dodge Dart sedan as the base vehicle for the Mopar 13 after the first three Mopar branded vehicles with all rear wheel drive, Hemi powered beasts. However, the Dart is one of the most powerful (yet efficient) cars in the class and with all of the interest in this sporty new compact sedan – this is a vehicle that is likely to resonate well with those who are looking to rep the Mopar brand.

LED Ballroom Dresses Dazzle the Stage

When ballroom dancers from Brigham Young University (BYU) took the stage at a recent international competition, it wasn’t just their moves that generated buzz.

BYU student engineers designed custom dresses with LED lights for the dancers, which incorporate some smart technology that syncs with the music.

The project grew from a collaboration between the BYU Ballroom Dance Company, alongside computer and electrical engineering students working on their senior projects. The dance company wore the unique dresses during the prestigious British Open Championships in Blackpool, England on May 29.

BYU says each dress included eight LED-light strips, attached to a computer chip and battery. Over the past school year, about 17 engineering students worked on the project. Doran Wilde, a BYU associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, says his students worked closely with the dance team to design the dresses.

“We’d have them sew in pockets in strategic places or sleeves or channels or things like that that we could stuff in our electronics,” said Wilde, who was one of three faculty advisors for this project.

The circuit boards embedded in the dresses were programmed with different effects and patterns for the LEDs — such as a rainbow pattern that shimmered or a solid color with pink sparkles. Each one can hold around 512 effects.

The light choreography was pre-programmed ahead of time and downloaded into the dresses, which can communicate with a central system. “All of these dresses have radios in them that communicate with the host system that has the music player with it,” Wilde says.

Designing these dresses to work seamlessly involved its share of technical challenges. BYU highlighted three of the students — Franklin Morley, Stephen Wood and Ali Wood — who worked 60 hours a week near the end to make sure the dresses would work for the big competition.

“There were a lot of things we didn’t anticipate,” Wood says. “With the other performing groups we worked with, the lights were attached to arms or legs and had a more sturdy surface to attach to. With the ballroom dancers, we didn’t understand the amount of stress these dresses would undergo.”

But it all worked out in the end: the dresses dazzled the stage, wowing audiences and earning the ballroom team first place in the competition’s formation category.

Wilde said the two-year-old partnership between engineering and dance at BYU was an “unlikely combination for collaboration” that they plan on continuing.

“It’s been fun for our students to work with the dancers who are very artistically-minded, (who get) to work with our engineers that are very scientifically-minded.”

Lightech’s new state-of-the-art showroom offers a one-stop-shop solution, stocking light fittings that serve and fulfil the demand of every customer. Lightech imports leading brands from Europe and East Asia and provides a comprehensive range of products to make living or working spaces beautiful. The store has in-house design consultants to offer professional lighting design services so that architects, interior designers, project managers and home owners can find the best way to meet their requirements.

Integrating LED and high-electron-mobility transistor

Researchers from the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have successfully integrated an LED and a power transistor on the same gallium nitride (GaN) chip. This innovation could open the door to a new generation of LED technology that is less expensive to manufacture, significantly more efficient, and which enables new functionalities and applications far beyond illumination.

At the heart of today’s LED (light-emitting diode) lighting systems are chips made from GaN, a semiconductor material. For the LED to function, many external components-such as inductors, capacitors, silicon interconnects, and wires-must be installed on or integrated into the chip. The large size of the chip, with all of these necessary components, complicates the design and performance of LED lighting products. Additionally, the process of assembling these complex LED lighting systems can be slow, manually intensive, and expensive.

In a new study led by T Paul Chow, professor in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering (ECSE) at Rensselaer, the researchers sought to solve this challenge by developing a chip with components all made from GaN. This type of monolithically integrated chip simplifies LED device manufacturing, with fewer assembly steps and less required automation. Additionally, LED devices made with monolithically integrated chips will have fewer parts to malfunction, higher energy efficiency and cost effectiveness, and greater lighting design flexibility.

Chow and the research team grew a GaN LED structure directly on top of a GaN high-electron-mobility transistor (HEMT) structure. They used several basic techniques to interconnect the two regions, creating what they are calling the first monolithic integration of a HEMT and an LED on the same GaN-based chip. The device, grown on a sapphire substrate, demonstrated light output and light density comparable to standard GaN LED devices. Chow said the study is an important step toward the creation of a new class of optoelectronic device called a light emitting integrated circuit (LEIC).

“Just as the integration of many silicon devices in a single chip – integrated circuits – has enabled powerful compact computers and a wide range of smart device technology, the LEIC will play a pivotal role in cost-effective monolithic integration of electronics and LED technology for new smart lighting applications and more efficient LED lighting systems,” Chow said.

“This new study, and the device we have created, is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Smart Lighting ERC director Robert Karlicek, a co-author of the study and ECSE professor at Rensselaer. “LEICs will result in even higher energy efficiency of LED lighting systems. But what will be even more exciting are the new devices, new applications, and new breakthroughs enabled by LEICs – they will truly usher in the era of smart lighting.”

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation through the Smart Lighting ERC, with additional support from New York state though Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR).

The Smart Lighting ERC is primarily funded by the NSF. Since opening in 2008, the ERC has enlisted more than 25 key industrial partners to help guide the center’s research programs and hasten the transition from product idea to testing and commercialization. The center has a strong focus on the integration of LEDs and advanced control technology for the design of smart lighting systems. Along with being highly energy efficient and producing higher quality light, these smarter, feature-rich systems are poised to enable entirely new applications in areas as diverse as communications, health care, and biohazard sensing.