A different kind of Smart Grid...

By Marco C. Janssen, UTInnovation, Netherlands

It is one thing to talk about Smart Grid and another to build an example of how to do it in a place that needs it the most.

A famous Dutch song has the following phrase in it "een eigen huis, een plek onder de zon" which freely translates into "an own house, a place under the sun".
Wouldn't it be nice to have a house in a good spot under the sun to enjoy your life? We all have dreams and one of those dreams can be to have a second home at a nice location. This is why time-shares, holiday resorts, villa complexes and other second home projects are being built all over the world. For a long time I also have wanted to buy or build a second home in an interesting place. Searching for the right house at the right location therefore has become some kind of a hobby for me.

Ever since I was a little boy I was interested in seeing the world, traveling, knowing different cultures and being able to see for myself how people are different and yet the same. I guess this has been one of the reasons why I became a consultant. As a consultant I travel a lot and I therefore have the luxury of visiting many interesting places. During these travels I have seen several locations and have considered to purchase a house several times but never bought one because there were always considerations and limitations.

Also over time I have developed a set of criteria that make finding the right place a bit more complicated. This is mainly because as I have grown older, the list of requirements has grown exponentially. First I want the house to be in a warm climate where the sun shines basically every day. However it shouldn't be a place with a high level of humidity as I do not like to sweat too much. There should be plenty of drinking water and have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The house should be spacious and should provide a safe and nice environment for both people and animals. The location of the house should be in or close to nature and away from noise and large quantities of people. At the same time it should however have access to transportation infrastructures such as roads and an (international) airport.

If you think this is already a challenge... There is more. The house shall be ecological, meaning that it has a minimal impact on the environment and if possible limit the human impact. And then there is the part that is driven by me being a consultant in the Smart Grid arena. I want the house to become a showcase for the use of renewable technologies such as solar panels, battery storage, residential bio mass, in a rural remote area. This implies that the solutions to be implemented not only should be simple and rugged; they should also be cost effective.

Through the environmental awareness programs as well as the large amount of articles and documentaries on the impact of humans on earth's eco-system, we nowadays know how important the rain forest for the planet is. I am no different than most other people in the sense that in the beginning, the care for the environment was some remote concept being driven by some other people that wanted us to believe that it was our fault. Over time I have learned to understand that the care for our environment is our own responsibility and that we need to start with ourselves.

So based on this large list of requirements I have been looking for locations and opportunities, wherever my travels have taken me. During these travels I have created a much better notion of what the ideal locations would be and for years I did not find the right location.

This year however, I encountered what I consider to be the perfect place. Because if you are looking for an exclusive area that provides all of the requirements listed, what better location to build an ecological house than on the edge of the Amazonian rain forest in Brazil? In the north of Brazil close to the Amazons there is an area that is warm, has lots of sunshine, is relatively remote from noise and large crowds, has access to roads, is close to an airport and offers the space for a nice house to be built.

How do you find a nice spot however in a remote location in a country that you do not really know that well? Well, in my case, we just got lucky and by accident stumbled upon it when visiting some relatives. During our visit we found a nice lot in a remote town of around seventy houses that does have electricity, but other than that, is completely disconnected from the world. There is no cell phone reception, no Internet, no public water or sewage system but it is a beautiful place in the middle of nature where one can relax and enjoy the full beauty of nature.

So we acquired the lot and then faced our first challenge. It was only a piece of land with nothing on it. So the first thing we had to do was design our own home. This was actually easier than one would think. The terrain is located over an underground water supply and has its own well. This well is located in the middle of the terrain and is a source of excellent quality drinking water so we wanted to preserve it. That is why we have decided to build the house around the well in a U-shape. The freedom of designing your own house means that you can include the things that you like or consider important. Rooms, sizes, colors, materials, everything is in your own hands.

As I said earlier, we wanted our house to be ecological and that is why we carefully selected the building materials. After looking at traditional building methods used by the indigenous population we selected a mix of bricks and wood and decided that the construction of the house should be done by local people.

Of course the house will provide a bit of luxury such as a nice kitchen, large bedrooms, bath rooms, a library, a dining room, a living room, a veranda to sit on during warm days and a nice terrace to dine and relax. This of course requires that the house has sufficient faucets, power outlets, lights, etc. As an engineer the fact that we had all the freedom meant that I could define and design the entire water and electricity system myself. Also it gave us the opportunity to install it ourselves.

Since we are planning to use renewables on and around the house the design of the house was such that the structure can support the planned renewables. The roof has extra beams and the walls are extra thick to support the weight of solar panels. Also the location of the wastewater tanks and their size is such that it will be easy to connect the system to a residential biomass installation.

We are now in the process of finishing the details and then we will select the solar panels, the electricity storage system, the residential bio-mass installation and possibly have a look into a small wind turbine. Since the North of Brazil has a great amount of sunshine hours per day and per year generating electric power should not be a problem. The key questions we have to answer are how much power we want to generate and what will we do with the surplus of power that will occur at times? In addition, issues such as dust and pollution and safety and shock hazards will have to be resolved.

With the house being connected to a rural power system means that for the injection of power into this grid we will have to consider the local rules and regulations. At the same time from a practical point of view we need to be concerned with the voltage management at our connection point as the house is located at the end of a long low voltage line with a weak source. This means that injecting power into this system can create large voltage and frequency swings and can cause overvoltages that could damage the neighbors’ equipment.

This means that we cannot install just any system but have to take into account output power, frequency, voltage control and the power factor.

What a wonderful challenge for an electrical engineer...

I can turn my professional knowledge into solutions that I will use for me and my family. My bigger goal is to turn my house into my own Smart Grid demonstration project.
The idea is to develop solutions and use the results of my own work and ideas to educate the local people on power systems, residential power generation, renewable resources, etc.

My goal is also to show them, and hopefully the local utility that with minimum means we can generate our own power in a controlled way and improve the quality of our lives without impacting the environment.

This way my hobby of creating a nice place to live in an exotic, warm place also serves the bigger purpose of creating prosperity for the people that we will be living next to.

So from an electrical engineer, I am becoming an ecological engineer.

Marco Janssen
graduated the Polytechnic in Arnhem, The Netherlands. He developed further his professional skills through programs and training courses. Marco is President and Chief Commercial Officer of UTInnovation LLC, a company providing consulting & training services in the areas of protection, control, substation automation and data acquisition, and support on the new international standard IEC 61850, advanced metering and power quality. He is a member of WG 10, 17, 18, & 19 of IEC TC57, the IEEE-PES and UCA International Users group.

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