By introducing DC, Flanders Make takes the lead in industrial electrical networks
We are proud to announce that we have established one of the world’s first industrial Direct Current (DC) electrical networks. Traditionally, the distribution of electricity in factories happens via Alternating Current (AC) networks using standard topologies and off-the-shelve components. However, as power electronics, energy storage and renewable energy have evolved, there is another way to distribute electricity: using DC instead of AC.
Using DC is already common in datacenters (for lower voltages). It has also been proposed for residential usage (for lower powers and reliability). But using DC distribution in the industry is unprecedented. Together with several leading industrial partners and KU Leuven/EnergyVille, we have created one of world’s first functional DC industrial grids.
Advantages of DC grids
The transition to DC grids promises several advantages:
- Increased overall efficiency through decreased power-transformations steps;
- Easier integration of renewable and storage systems;
- Reduced harmonic distortion;
- Improved stability;
- Higher reliability;
- Better handling of bidirectional (regenerative) power flows.
We, together with our partners, are currently still quantifying these advantages. To do this, we designed and developed a prototype that uses off-the-shelve components. To ensure applicability to the industry, the industrial partners in the project have steered the selection of components, including off-the-shelve industrial drives of five common brands. The prototype includes an assembly of electrical sources, industrial loads and intermediary distribution as well as safety devices as a means to simulate an industrial-grade, experiment-friendly environment.
Smart grids vs DC grids
A DC network is also a common topology in smart grids. Whereas (DC) smart grids want to give insights on the electrical consumption to level out and eventually lower it, industrial DC networks go a step further. The improvements in reliability, losses and power quality are higher on the agenda. This shift in priorities gives industrial DC grids an additional challenge to overcome. The energy management system (EMS) will need to include this to give an overall better performance of the DC grid. The EMS can achieve this by manipulating the power stored/drawn from storage, changing the topology of the grid and influencing the control of the AC coupling. Our lab setup also includes such an EMS for testing and evaluation.
Flanders Make as key player in industrial electricity networks
By realizing this prototype, Flanders Make joins a select club of world-wide players with an operational DC grid. To the best of our knowledge, this setup is one of only two DC grids worldwide targeting industry and the only one using off-the-shelve components (i.e. non-adapted). This positions Flanders Make as a key player in sustainability, energy efficiency and innovation with regards to industrial electricity consumption. With our prototype DC grid we will validate our research, quantify the costs and benefits of DC grids and far most important, it will provide us with practical knowledge and experience to tackle the challenges that the industry is facing today.