Researchers at the FREEDM Systems Center on the North Carolina State University Centennial Campus have come up with what they call a "smart transformer" capable of managing electricity flow in both directions and interconnections with rooftop solar installations and plug-in EVs. While the digital transformer is far from ready to make an appearance on an electrical grid near you, MIT calls it one of the 10 most important technology developments of 2010, according to a news article in the News & Observer newspaper.
Referring to the solid state transformer, Stephen Cass, special projects editor at the MIT Technology Review, was quoted in the article as saying "Think of it as an Internet router for the electrical grid. This contribution fits into that transformational ideal in that it will enable other changes."
FREEDM Center director Alex Huang said "This technology is probably five years ahead of its time. We are pushing electronics into the power grid."
The smart transformer works in the lab, but there are hurdles to overcome before utilities will be ready to buy it. Its components can hold up for about 20 years, about half of the life span of today's transformers, and they're expensive.
And independent Raleigh, N.C. industry consultant Chad Eckhardt, also quoted in the article, said mass production of technologies like the smart transformer will need to attract interest from global industry giants like ABB, Eaton, Siemens or GE – and that utilities will need to agree to field test them first.
Source: Smart Grid News.com