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Paper accepted for presentation at the 2011 IEEE Trondheim PowerTech

Emerging smart grid topics in electrical

engineering education
M. Albu, A.V. Boicea, M. Calin, M. Popa

energy generation is driving the use of low power, dispersed

Abstract—In this paper several topics on smart grids as taught sources, usually located in remote areas, many times under
at Master level at the “Politehnica” University of Bucharest are specific exploitability conditions. The high cost of integration
presented. Among them, low voltage DC grids benefit from a of such generation sources into existing distribution grids
laboratory which integrates simulation, control strategies, on-line
(including connection lines, provided that the local energy use
communication, dedicated measurements and an extensive
experimental set-up. All components can be studied as part of is extremely low) prevent further deployment of classical
classical AC microgrid also; moreover, the laboratory functionality solutions, consisting in a rectifier layer, followed by inverter
is designed as to integrate renewable-based generation and and transformer units. Interestingly, most of these generating
appliances with modern electronic power supply and opens new technologies provide the energy transfer in the form of direct
perspectives on several topics, part of the master program. The voltage and current (PV, fuel cells) or need an intermediate dc
paper describes in detail all laboratory components, experimental
layer in order to maximize the efficiency.
results and further development.
The main driver for DC grids seems to be, however, the
Index Terms—Distributed Generation, DC grid, master nowadays dramatic change in the power supply of appliances,
programs, communication, measurements, numerical models together with the future demand – side management
component of smart grids: most of the electrical equipment
used in buildings operates with electrical energy in DC form
I. INTRODUCTION (computers, mobile phones and other mobile multimedia,

T HE Smart Grids topic is already beyond the academic lighting, air conditioning, other appliances etc.). A direct DC
approach. At “Politehnica” University of Bucharest supply is nowadays possible without a DC/AC adapter. In
several teams are developing solutions meant to cope with combination with PV (included into the façade or on the roof),
specific power engineering challenges. Several thousands a battery system or a fuel cell system, a sustainable DC energy
households are still unconnected to the distribution grid due to system for buildings can be developed, which might prove to
their isolated location, season-like use, low power consume be an ideal solution when anticipating the further massive use
and scarcity of available funds for expensive extension of the of electric vehicles. In addition, many countries promote the
existing distribution grid. In parallel, an ambitious program use of the Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) or the so-called
targeting deployment of renewables, including solar energy economical lamps for efficiency reasons [3]. An increased use
(mostly PV), micro hydro and wind energy is taking off. of Solid State Lighting is also foreseen, despite the lack of
Among the challenges recently impacting the user - layer, standards in this field. All these appliances can be directly
one can note the remarkable progress in the field of power supplied at direct voltage, increasing the overall efficiency
electronics (availability of low-cost high voltage and large when the local available power generation is already in DC
current IGBTs); therefore, a direct consequence appears to be form.
the DC solution for low voltage grids; it is expected to have a
big impact in the near future [1], despite its low acceptability II. A SMART GRID EDUCATIONAL PERSPECTIVE
by the power engineering community. “Politehnica” University of Bucharest has close to 30000
The trend observed nowadays in the LV load characteristics enrolled students and 15 engineering departments: Electronics,
is exhibiting a power supply which completely redesigned Computing Science, Power Engineering, Electrical
with a solid-state rectifier as input layer. Recently a major Engineering and so on.
application of DC supply has been identified: data centers Smart grid topics are part of several courses organized at
where energy flows through transformers (MV/LV) to power the Power Engineering department. Recently (2009-2010),
the server racks, causing a loss of energy of eight to nine also the Electrical Engineering Department introduced with
percent; in addition, each server needs an AC-to-DC great success three courses: “Renewable generation”,
conversion for powering up its processors, memory, storage, “Advanced Topics in Measurement and Estimation” and
“Smart Grids”. All of these courses are taught throughout the
which generates additional losses. A future local DC grid
first semester in a 3 semester program. For each course are
would enable [2] savings up to 20%.
about 30 students enrolled and comprises of 28 hours of
Moreover, the need of using renewables for electrical
lectures and 14 hours of laboratory work.

978-1-4244-8417-1/11/$26.00 ©2011

Part of the laboratory work includes system emulation in ModbusTCP protocol. In order to read the values stored in the
Matlab with Simulink environment and control strategies for input registers, an application has been developed it he
coping with low inertia systems [4], using a versatile power LabVIEW software environment, using the Modbus module.
electronics platform [5]. Another set of applications is In the following the main elements of the energy transfer
demonstrating power quality concepts and active filters are described.
design. A distinct section of two of the courses is represented
by the topic of synchronized measurements and associated
algorithms. Fig. 1. shows examples of frequency monitoring
and communication issues for remote measurements dedicated
to specific smart grid topics [6].



Fig. 1. a) Frequency Monitoring using a PMU in the Measurement

Laboratory; b) Example of bandwidth usage for 3 remote Smart Grid
applications in a distribution network in Romania

All modules highlight the contribution to the total

uncertainty of various elements in the measurement chain.
This section of the laboratory is linked with state of charge
estimation (for the storage used in various applications, like
the virtual synchronous generator) and is primarily intended to
highlight the different time constants of phenomena,
measurement set-up and control algorithms in nowadays
active distribution networks.


The concepts defining a smart AC grid have been Fig. 2. A small scale DC grid to examine the operation of the low DC voltage
transposed into a DC grid, located on the University premises.
The setup consists of three layers (Fig. 2): There are three types of electrical energy sources: PV; fuel
-the energy transfer layer, including the optional cell and a model of general renewables (SR) controlled by a
interconnection to the existing distribution grid (AC supply). DC stabilized source, supplied directly from the existing AC
-the measurement and control layer; grid. In addition a storage unit of electrochemical type
-the communication layer. (rechargeable battery cells up to 240 Ah) is foreseen.
Monitoring the network functionality requires measurement
A. Model of renewable-based generation (SR) at direct
apparatus at various levels. We use standard measurement
apparatus (multimeters and oscilloscopes), controllable by
The model is represented by a DC-source which has a rated
client modules running on computers connected via USB
power of 2.4 kW and delivers energy at output voltages of up
interfaces, and dedicated data acquisition cards, responsible
to 600V, while the maximum output current is 4A. The source
for converters control and monitoring, via the analog
possesses an embedded automatic protection against the
interfaces provided the USB connection; it provides eight
breaking upper limits of the currents and voltages.
optically isolated inputs rated for 5-30VDC and feature 300V
external isolation. In addition, we use 5 Energy meters which
provide more than 60 readings including voltage, current and
total active energy. They are connected to a network bridge
from which the measurements can be extracted using the

In order to have a better perspective on the radiant energy on

horizontal plane in this area, on the IAM factor, on the system
losses as well as on the produced energy one can use the
information depicted in Fig. 6. The IAM represents an angular
performance factor due to the fact it shows the
interdependency between the angle of the light which shines
on the panel and the performance of the panel.

a) b)
Fig. 3. Photovoltaic modules on the roof of MicroDERLab (a); average
radiation in the PV location (at horizontal and inclination angle)

B. PV generator. The solar panels

There are 8 Kyocera 130W PV modules mounted on the
roof of the laboratory that generate a total peak power of
approximately 1kW (Fig. 4). The polycrystalline solar panels
generate under optimal solar radiation a 7.39 A current at an
operating voltage of 17.6 V. The open circuit voltage is 21.9 V
and the efficiency is about 15%.
Fig. 6. Graphical representation of the system losses, system efficiency and
The students use the real data from the PV system in order radiant energy
to practice the PVSyst software environment which is
available at [7].
Fig. 4. shows the estimate of the electrical energy. C. Fuel cell module
The fuel cell (Fig.7.) can generate a power of 1.2 kW at a
direct output voltage between 22 V and 50 V. The output
voltage needs a DC/DC converter to be stabilized. A
unidirectional dc/dc converter is additionally used (2kW) for
control purposes and interface to the 230V DC-ring.

Fig. 4. Normalized productions (per installed kWp): rated power is

1.04 kWp

On the other hand, the losses in the PV panels, the losses in Fig. 7. The 1.2 kW fuel cell within MicroDERLab - laboratory setup.
the entire system as well as the produced useful energy can be
observed in Fig. 5. Both the fuel cell and the storage system need appropriate
dc/dc booster converters, as to allow interfacing [8] with the
dc bus at rated voltage 230V. We selected two converters,
allowing a bi-directional mode operation (Fig.8.).

Fig. 5. Normalized production and loss factors; rated power is 1.04 kWp

The average losses in the panels have a value of 0.71kWh/day

whilst the ones in the entire system are equal to 2.95kWh/day.
The entire system has an average efficiency of 0.79, the
maximum of 0.81 being attained in February.
Fig. 8. Energy sources and converters on the DC bus of the laboratory.

The current and voltage on the DC bus, during a VSG voltage of 230V in order to preserve the same maximal current
experiment, can be seen in Fig. 9. and accordingly the existing wiring and protection.
A dedicated distribution panel, together with individual
plug-in modules foreseen with additional protection in order to
prevent accidental disconnection of the appliances plugs was
designed. The lighting section of the distribution panel
supplies 50% of the necessary light source of the laboratory,
i.e. fluorescent lamps with a total power 400W. Separately
tests were conducted to demonstrate the potential use of any
available lighting system designed for the recently in use AC
A number of desktop computers together with their LCD
displays act as controllable loads of the DC grid. In addition,
several (notebook and mobile phones) chargers are directly
connected to the DC supply in order to derive their
characteristic. The total power of the controllable loads is in
the range of the existing power supply and can be easily varied
when considering more units. In the lab up to 12 desktop
Fig. 9. Current and voltage on the DC bus – on-line data obtained during an computers can be simultaneously connected and a number of 6
5kW VSG experiment
notebooks are available for tests.
D. Energy Storage System
In order to perform minimal grid stability studies, the lead acid IV. TEACHING DIMENSION
batteries have been chosen, because they are the mature The first year master students from the Electrical
technology that satisfies the requirements of our applications, Engineering Department who attend the “Smart Grids” course
implying relative low costs. However, the students run an have seven laboratory assignments, mainly based on a
application able to help selecting the best storage technology combination of numerical simulation (using the
according to the requirements of an active distribution grid. Matlab/Simulink environment), and experimentation. The
Another application is the on-line estimation of State of difficulty level increases gradually. First assignments
Charge [9]. introduce classical topics (like simulation of a High-
Penetration, No Storage, Wind-Diesel system or models of
renewable-based generators). Next two assignments are
devoted to PV systems: firstly, a numerical simulation of a
PV module in Simulink together with the U-I curves for
different values of the irradiation is pursued. Then, a
measurement –oriented section is performed on the lab real
a) b) PV system. The State of charge is estimated and compared
with the Existing SOC module. As the classes are usually in
the evening, only sections of discharge characteristic of the
batteries are derived for different levels of discharging current
(maintained constant). Data sets are saved for further analysis.
The power quality topic is considered only as related to
c) d)
voltage waveforms. Statistics performed on data made
available by extensive measurements campaigns in various LV
locations [6] of the Romanian distribution grid are performed.
The statistical analysis is then performed on the instantaneous
values in the voltage and current registrations for the PV
e) f)
system [8].
The dc/dc converters are studied in order to compare the
Fig. 10. Storage units (a) and element (b) in the laboratory. Charging current numerical models developed in the Simulink environment
(c) and voltage (d) and discharging voltage (e) together with an I(U) with the real data obtained in the laboratory, for various power
characteristic (f) obtained during classes.
A different target is set to the learning value of course
E. Loads attended by the first year master students enrolled in the
The electrical loads we used are typical office loads – home “Instrumentation and advanced measurements system” master
appliances - designed to be supplied from the AC distribution program. The accent here is put on the value and importance
grid (230V 50 Hz.). Following the new trend of using solid- of the measurement system and data interpretation. All data
state power supply modules, these loads can be directly are processed as related to the measurement apparatus
supplied from a DC grid and we have chosen a DC rated specification; the uncertainty budget and estimation is always

associated to the experiments which are also introducing new Solutions based on DC power distribution presents
issues, as those related to smart grids deployment. significant energy savings and, at the same time, involve
Simple but exciting measurement set-ups consider office simpler equipment and control strategies than in the case of
equipment (PCs, monitors, printers, notebook chargers, the AC power distribution. These energy savings are derived
telephone chargers and compact fluorescent lamps) directly from the increasing number of electrical loads with DC–based
connected to a DC power supply. The voltage-current batteries or electronic components [11].
characteristic has to be derived, from a number of successive The DC distribution facilitates the replacement of the
voltage variation over time (step voltage increase from 0 to AC–DC converters also within the household appliances with
300V, followed by stepwise decrease to 0V). The target is to a smaller number of more efficient converters [11]. However,
derive the numerical model of the respective load when in order to prove the feasibility of such DC-based solutions,
directly supplied at direct voltage and also to study the students have to be exposed to hands-on experiments allowing
influence of the measurement uncertainty on the model knowledge transfer and understanding of efficiency goals.
parameters estimation, using GUM [10]. Although it is considered [11] that presently the costs are
Figure 8 shows the I(U) characteristic for a mixed load (one approximately equal for both AC and DC low voltage
desktop computer and two LCD), highlighting the systems, the DC solution is already economically viable and
“hysteresis”-like characteristic. the future electrical engineers have to include it among the
options for a cheaper power supply.
0.9 The laboratory presented in this paper is a platform used
for both research and master level teaching. It allows the
instructor to focus on a large palette of electrical engineering
problems: from smart grids elements, renewable integration,
b energy conversion equipment to measurement topics,
including uncertainty budget evaluation, state estimation,
I [A]

model parameters, and numerical models versus
experimentation and so on. Moreover, a dedicated
0.3 a communication layer allows integration of PLC-
communication in both the 230 V DC and AC grids [8].
A validation of control solutions is also carried out,
targeting the interoperation of several DC sources with home
0 appliances directly supplied with variable direct voltage. The
0 50 100 150 200 250 300 350
U [V]
experimental platform enables identification of the numerical
models describing all grid elements and has a strong
Fig. 11. I(U) characteristic for increasing voltage supplied (a) educational dimension for the students pursuing master studies
and decreasing the voltage (b). in electrical engineering.

The models are derived after considering the associated VI. REFERENCES
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