PCIM EUROPE 2023 KEYNOTE Realizing energy efficiency and sustainability gains with DC grids in industrial plants
At PCIM Europe 2023, Professor Holger Borcherding, Scientific Director, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Ostwestfalen-Lippe, presented his keynote, On the Way to the DC Factory - The Open Industrial DC Grid for Sustainable Production Sites is Entering the Dissemination Phase, which focused on DC grids for industrial applications and the rapid progress that is being made in this space. Here is the summary!
The war of the currents between alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) is far from being over. While both AC and DC emerged at the end of the 19th century, AC dominated much of the 21st century. Today, however, the reverse is true as DC helps to accelerate the energy transition.
Today, the majority of electrical devices are powered by DC, as are the likes of charging stations and electrical drives in industrial environments. It is for this reason that industry leaders are increasingly calling for the widespread implementation and adoption of DC-based smart microgrids.
What is a DC microgrid?
A DC microgrid is a localized power system that can run independently of the centralized power grid by generating and consuming its own DC power. Power is commonly generated through the likes of solar panels, fuel cells, and wind turbines, with excess energy stored in batteries.
The primary benefits of DC microgrids are:
- Sustainability — DC microgrids are much more sustainable than AC power grids. This is largely down to the autonomy of the power system. By being able to control power generation, distribution, and consumption, microgrid operators have the potential to pursue sustainability goals and make a greater impact.
- Reliability — A DC microgrid is highly reliable and can ‘island’ itself by disconnecting from the centralized grid and running its own loads. This makes it more reliable during times of emergency such as when natural disasters strike because microgrid operators can mitigate the impact of unforeseen events.
- Integration—DC microgrids can integrate seamlessly into applications like smart buildings and industrial plants to begin providing a reliable and efficient source of power instantly. Used in tandem with smart technologies like sensors, grid operators can benefit from improved data insights for better decision-making.
- Efficiency — The use of DC microgrids eliminates the need to convert AC power to DC power and the conversion losses that comes naturally with this process. These losses can be significant, particularly in industrial applications where lots of power is consumed around the clock.
Watch the whole keynote here:
PCIM 2023 Keynote Summary: On the way to the DC factory
At PCIM Europe 2023, Professor Holger Borcherding, Scientific Director, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Ostwestfalen-Lippe, presented his keynote, On the Way to the DC Factory - The Open Industrial DC Grid for Sustainable Production Sites is Entering the Dissemination Phase, which focused on DC grids for industrial applications and the rapid progress that is being made in this space.
It’s very simple to build a DC grid on the face of it, says Professor Borcherding. “If you connect all the DC links then you have a DC grid,” but things get more complicated if you want to have an open DC grid in a complete production hall. The reason for this is energy efficiency; existing industrial DC grid topologies have been optimized for motor control which is standardized and cheap but loses lots of energy through heat.
To engineer a solution to this issue, Professor Borcherding established a research group in 2016 that today is known as DC-INDUSTRIE2 and includes the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, Fraunhofer IISB, and the University of Stuttgart.
The main result of this research project is a system concept of DC industry which Professor Borcherding refers to as a “blueprint” for planning a DC grid because it fits in with current state-of-the-art technologies and as such design rules are consistent across industrial applications.
DC grids in action
With existing current power infrastructure aging and becoming more vulnerable, the question isn’t if an issue will arise, it is when a problem will arise; DC grids are widely recognized as the solution.
Although DC microgrids are yet to become mainstream, they’re far from theoretical future solutions; many applications across everything from smart buildings to industry are only steps away from implementing them.
One such example, according to Professor Borcherding, is NExT Factory which at its core sits a large battery energy storage system. The factory is fully electric and includes bi-directional charging and thermal energy management. Results so far are encouraging; energy costs have been reduced by 35 % and it consumes up to 70 % of its own energy.
“I think DC is ready. We have started the dissemination phase in the last few months [and… there are many projects in the pipeline, and I therefore have high hopes that DC grids will become mainstream very quickly,” concluded Professor Borcherding.