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DC Microgrids and Distribution Systems: An

Overview
Ahmed T. Ghareeb, Student Member, IEEE, Ahmed A. Mohamed, Student Member, IEEE, and
Osama A. Mohammed, Fellow, IEEE

Abstract—In this paper, an overview of the most recent
advances in DC power systems is presented. Due to the
significantly increasing interest that DC power systems have been
gaining lately, researchers investigated several of the issues that
need to be considered during this transition interval from current
conventional power systems into modern smart grids involving
DC microgrids. The efforts of these researchers were mostly
directed towards studying the feasibility of implementing DC
distribution on a given application, some DC distribution designrelated aspects such as the system architecture or its voltage level,
or the challenges associated with DC power systems protection.
These research efforts were categorized, presented, discussed and
analyzed in this paper.
Index Terms—DC distribution, DC microgrids, DC versus AC,
design, feasibility, protection.

T

I. INTRODUCTION

HE debate of AC- versus DC-distribution is historical and
as old as the evolution of the first commercial power
systems themselves. This debate, which took place in the
nineteenth century and was mostly led by the two biggest
electrical companies at that time: Edison’s and
Westinghouse’s, apparently led to the implementation of AC
distribution in the vast majority of our power systems due to
reasons that made much sense at that time such as; the
transformers offered a great and simple means to step up the
voltage and consequently widen the area covered by a
distribution system, and the invention of poly-phase AC
machines that helped people find an alternative to DC
machines, which had remained as the only option for some
time. However, there are some exceptions; some distribution
systems employ DC distribution due to some unique features
they have. For instance, in traction power systems, DC
distribution is used due to the fact that series DC motors are
mostly used in traction applications because of its high starting
torque and speed regulation simplicity. Another example is
distribution systems with sensitive loads such as data centers,
in such systems, there are some sensitive loads that cannot be
interrupted even if the main source of power is lost and hence
they are typically supported by uninterruptible power supply
(UPS) systems. It is more economical to distribute the power
in DC form in such systems.
Current power systems encounter changes on both the load

978-1-4799-1303-9/13/$31.00 ©2013 IEEE

and source sides, e.g. the increased penetration of DC sinks
such as electronic loads, and DC power sources such as most
of the renewable energy sources. The impacts of these changes
lately motivated several researchers to raise a fundamental yet
essential question, is AC distribution still the most convenient
means to distribute electrical power or it is time to reconsider
employing DC distribution systems? There are significant
benefits that can be gained by implementing DC microgrids.
For instance, eliminating the AC-DC conversion stages of the
electronic devices (computers, laptops, electronic lights,
variable frequency drives, etc.), which represent 50% of the
electric load in many buildings today, could lower the losses
on the power going to the device from 15%-40% to 10%-15%.
Another great benefit of DC microgrids is their inherited
capability of facilitating static storage integration. On the other
hand, there are several obstacles against DC systems such as
the lack of federal incentives or utility regulatory practices that
would entice utility companies to invest on improving energy
efficiency. Moreover, for DC microgrids, the National Electric
Code (NEC) does not yet include enough standards and codes
for DC systems, which would definitely lead the electricians
and electric engineers to get concerned if they are involved in
developing one. Fortunately, in terms of standard, there has
been lately an organized and successful movement by the
Emerge Alliance to develop new standards for DC systems.
In this paper, the authors will present an exhaustive
literature survey and overview of the research efforts
conducted on several issues such as the design, control,
operation and protection of DC systems. The objective of the
paper is to give an integrated background about what has been
already achieved in these areas, either by giving details about
the topics or guidance on where to find information about
them. The paper also attempts to develop a simplified
conceptual path to the newly researchers in the field of DC
power systems on what the challenges of DC systems are and
how their formers handled them. The paper is organized as
follows; in section II, a brief description of some of the
currently existing DC power systems and their applications
will be presented, section III discusses some of the feasibility
studies presented in literature, moreover, some of the attractive
factors of utilizing DC in distribution systems will be
provided. In section IV, issues and challenges associated with
the design of DC power systems will be addressed as well as

A. A practical implemented example of such system is the 15 kW Naval Combat Survivability (NCS) zonal DC distribution testbed setup developed at Purdue University and the University of Missouri-Rolla with grants from the US Navy to examine the various aspects related to that system. From the angle of system operation. There are other factors that directly influence one’s decision . battery chargers and DC loads [1]. They also require high reliability and efficiency at a low cost. some of the conclusions that can be derived from this overview will be listed. Several papers have shown that DC microgrids can play an effective role in solving some operational issues on the main grid. E. DC distribution is used. Hammerstrom. [9]. trams. [19]. An example is the 48V power system in the telecommunication central office. This conclusion was assured by the model presented in [26] by G. it was shown that DC systems incorporating fuel cell or other local DC generation has favorable conversion losses. interfacing with DC supply is much easier and reduces conversion stages. Seo et al. in integrated power systems (IPS). [2]. It was shown that the converter efficiency increases as the power capacity and load becomes high. Finally. batteries. The high penetration of UPS systems in data centers makes DC distribution a more economical and efficient option because of the eliminated conversion stages [8]. are designed to transfer tremendous amount of data. navigation. However. III. Some of these systems include. hotel and auxiliary loads. One of the options that are very likely to be commonly used in IPS is the DC zonal distribution system [21]-[23]. Whereas. They store and transfer huge amounts of digital information such as internet. DC-DC converters. B. Telecommunication Telecommunication power systems. Traction DC distribution is used in traction power systems. cellular communications. A good example is the NASA International Space Station (ISS) requiring over 100 kW. Moreover.some of the proposed solutions and design techniques that can be found in the literature. DC distribution is employed. each power conversion stage loses about 2. They presented a mathematical model to analyze the losses of power components of DC distribution systems. underground railways. using DC distribution help designers use a single conductor since the rails can be used as the return path for the current. The reliability of that system is five nines [10]-[12]. It was shown experimentally in [28] that a DC micro grid can be used for voltage assessment by making use of its capability of injecting reactive power. similar to data center power systems. much effort was paid to study the feasibility of using DC in distribution systems by several researchers. II. The ISS is composed of two relatively independent DC systems with different voltage levels. The American system runs at 120 V and has solar power modules with a capacity of 76 kW. Medium voltage DC distribution is another architecture that is also extensively investigated to be implemented on future shipboard power systems [21]-[24]. A study carried out by NTT facility (Japan) to compare between AC UPS and DC power supply from the availability point of view show that the reliability of DC supply is higher [7]. EXISTING DC POWER SYSTEMS There are several power systems that typically employ DC distribution. Even for traction systems that use induction motors (IM) [17]. Hence. these two energy systems are combined seeking an increased reliability during normal sailing and battle conditions. 750 V or even up to 1 kV [18]. a DC microgrid involving PV and hybrid energy storage system (super capacitors and Li-Ion batteries) was used for mitigation of pulsed (large magnitude and short period) Loads. The main feature that must be maintained in a data center power system is reliability [5]-[7]. Based on the author’s assertion. Their supply voltage ranges among 600 V. Load flow problem and description of DC traction system are discussed in [20]. which assures several advantages other than the increased reliability such as the facilitation of protection since the sources and loads are distributed into different zones each with its own converters. the Russian system is divided into two voltage levels. and credit card transactions. presented in [25] a model to compare between the overall conversion efficiencies of AC and DC distribution topologies for residential applications.5% of the energy it converts. D. Consequently. D. in section V. mainly because DC motors are typically used in this application [13]-[16]. The two systems are linked with bi-directional DC-DC converters to enable power transfer [1]-[4]. Therefore. Spacecraft Spacecraft systems involve a large number of solar panels. 120 V and 28 V components. Shipboard power systems Normally. communication. and it has 29 kW solar power modules. system efficiency and controllability will be increased. FEASIBILITY OF DC DISTRIBUTION POWER SYSTEMS Recently. such as trolleybuses. Some of these efforts will be summarized in this section. Data centers Some current data center power systems are AC and some are DC. shipboard power systems involve a mechanical system for propulsion along with an electrical system for weapons. J. In [27]. DC distribution in traction power systems supplies the vehicles and other auxiliary loads on them. moreover low cost has to be also ac considered since the energy consumption of data centers is expected to be around 20% of the total cost. implementing DC distribution systems with advanced communication-based control forming DC microgrids is rather promising to be implemented on smart grids. C.

These factors can be classified into factors related to sources and others related to loads: Sources There is currently a great leap towards the utilization of alternative energy sources such as photovoltaic panels. discussed in [32] the general design issues associated with DC power systems and different grid layouts. In [30] authors presented steady state and transient models for large number of loads (63). Newer more-efficient technologies such as compact fluorescent fixtures and solid-state lighting involve a DC stage and hence it is more efficient to utilize them in a DC distribution system [29]. Two grounding architectures (TN-S & IT) for DC systems were compared. operation and transition modes. They compared two configurations for the data center power system (shown in Fig. proposed in [33] a protection scheme for an LV DC microgrid. but . Simulation results showed that continuous supply for sensitive DC load was guaranteed by coordinating the main two converters. it increases the complexity of protection scheme. or through a controlled DC/DC converter. The same authors proposed in [34] an adaptive control system for DC microgrids installed in data centers. Authors emphasized on the importance of having fast detection of AC-grid outage and fast switches. configuration (a) is better than (b) to avoid generator synchronization and for better control of power flow. series to eliminate the spark. can be supplied by DC power. fuels cells. It is also more efficient to use electronic loads. The results showed that it is possible to use commercial AC protection devices. I=YoU+Io. which can be provided by an ultrafast hybrid DC CB. Regarding the system design. Therefore. a method for coordination of protection devices was discussed. Methods of short circuit analysis and models for DC system components are provided in [31]. It was shown that a DC five wire installation is slightly better than that of AC. Also. to protect batteries and loads. (b) can be better than (a) in terms of power losses and converter size. Also. Since DC current does not have natural zero crossing. they require faster protection. The steady state model of a universal machine is a variable current source. This means the load consumes the same amount of power regardless of load voltage changes. Salomonsson et al. 2) Practically. lighting loads. According to the authors. D. 1). it was demonstrated that supplying the loads with a DC supply can prevent disturbance to affect the loads. Salomonsson et al. DC is superior to AC in terms of power transferring capacity. while it was found that electronic loads that use SMPS (Switch Mode power supply) behave as constant power loads. Another study of different operation situations and transition between interconnected situations and islanded situation of DC microgrid was presented in [35]. it was found that heating loads can be modeled (in steady state) as pure resistance and lighting loads can be modeled as a temperature dependent resistance. electronic loads and variable speed drives. DESIGN OF DC DISTRIBUTION SYSTEMS Several research contributions were presented recently in the literature also related to the design o`f DC distribution systems. Configurations of data center power system discussed in [34]. The main focus of the cited paper was on system operation and control. while for three wire installations. protection of DC systems becomes a hard task. which also guides us to the preference of DC distribution. Among the eight possible operation modes and twenty-three transitions. In the same work. IV. Furthermore. and it is easier and more efficient to connect them to a DC distribution system directly. Photovoltaic and fuel cells yield a DC output voltage. It can be said here that other advantages can be added to (b) over (a) such as: 1) Connecting HVAC to the same DC bus not only increases the converter size but also increases the energy storage capacity and consequently increases the cost. The authors tested the performance of some typical loads when operated with DC power. the ones of interest were defined and discussed. converters using IGBT modules are very sensitive to over-currents. The design of DC systems is a crucial task as many factors have to be taken into consideration especially if the used equipment is originally designed for AC applications. such as fuses and CBs. it was suggested to use three phase AC circuit breakers but with connecting the three contact pairs in Fig. wind turbines and microturbines. However. while. This scheme was studied during different fault events located at different points on the grid. It was shown that problems can arise with high-impedance ground faults. with DC distribution since they typically use a switching converter at their input. where generating a synchronized sinusoidal AC current is required. Loads Three main categories of loads. Microturbines generating high-frequency AC are also easier to connect to a DC system than to an AC system. 1. D. One of the basic requirements of a reliable design is to obtain simplified models that express the load behavior under DC operation. which exponentially increased lately in every power system. They held a comparison of different cable configurations. Variable speed drives involve a DC bus stage to increase the speed control range. it’s preferred not to connect high power loads to the same bus of the sensitive loads to minimize voltage fluctuations.about employing AC or DC in a given system.

no. 2011. Load shedding was based on load classifications according to their priorities. C. presented in [39] a DC microgrid for residential applications. H. CONCLUSION AND FUTURE WORK This work presented an extensive survey for efforts done on DC systems and DC micro grids. Fernandez. and with four different DC voltage levels 48V. Tonicello and S. 120V. LED lamp." Twenty-Seventh Annual IEEE Applied Power Electronics Conference and Exposition (APEC). A. they guaranteed emergency backup power for their critical loads for much longer time than that guaranteed by commercial UPS with less costs. vol. Techakittiroj et al. V. television.u). It was shown that power buffer is suitable for short term transients. B. Pignari and J. important guidelines and limitations are provided in NEC [44] article 250. In [36]. 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Results showed that the 48V DC systems with optimized cable area have the lowest total energy consumption and the 24V DC system has very high losses (this was highly expected on the studied power level). 25. S. Stell. IECEC 96. 53. System operation under interconnected mode and intentional islanding mode are demonstrated. 592-598. Voltage selection. Also. ± 170V). in which much lower number of converters is needed in order to increase the overall efficiency. Wolf. Jan. Landstroem. The system was economically evaluated by calculating installation and operation costs. Successful results and improved power quality confirmed the possibility and plausibility of using DC distribution widely. 2012. REFERENCES [1] [2] [3] [4] F. Grigsby. They presented a principle for cable cross section optimization based on comparing the investment cost of the cable and the cable losses. computer and small motor drive with DC power. The concept of power buffer was adopted in [42]. 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