It is now generally known that efficient electric power transmission, distribution and control systems are essential for reduction of CO2. In a growing number of examples, superb systems are being incorporated into existing power systems and successfully reducing CO2 emissions by substantial amounts. For example, in contrast to the commonly accepted reduction rate of about 7%, Panasonic’s Shiodome Museum has achieved an astounding reduction of 30%. This is due to implementation of a control system based on as many as several hundred detailed rules. The control system makes good use of a high level sensor network and artificial intelligence, among other factors.
Home appliance manufacturers should be focusing on the next stage of such a control system – on the ideal state of energy management for homes. Junji Nomura, a Senior Managing Director(Member of the Board of Directors) of Panasonic Corporation, was asked about new IEC standards expected in the near future, and what Panasonic was doing to prepare for the coming era.
International standards set by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The aim is international standardization of electrical and electronics sectors, with the exception of the telecommunications sector.
Panasonic’s stance on the Energy Revolution
There are three broad challenges in a revolution of the energy industry: (1) the development of renewable energy; (2) the introduction of smart grids; and (3) improvement of direct-current distribution infrastructure. Among specific issues, (1) entails a careful combination of energy produced and used locally (solar power generation, etc.) and energy provided by power companies. The second challenge, (2), includes modernization of mechanisms for power transmission and distribution. The third challenge, (3), includes construction of mechanisms for operating equipment on direct current, which features higher energy efficiency than alternating current.
Dr. Nomura discusses Panasonic’s vision for the future. He talks about how Panasonic is aligning itself with these worldwide movements, and how the company is positioning its products in readiness.
“Up to now, we have been looking at “discrete value” for home electric appliances and other electricity-related facilities. In other words, we sought to improve quality at the individual product level. In the future, we need to offer product groups that stay with the flow of a series of revolutions in the energy industry, also as an entire group.”
New power supply standards and infrastructure are necessary for domestic application of the total control successfully attained in large buildings. Meanwhile, manufacturers need to develop products that satisfy the new requirements. However, the average household is unable to invest the capital needed for energy conservation in a building. The important issue is therefore how much the cost of building a home energy management system can be reduced.
The objective of Smart Grids is to optimize the demand-and-supply balance of electric power. This is to be achieved by constructing power systems in which demand and supply can be coordinated automatically. Electrical equipment is to be networked, with everything from power distribution to individual devices interconnected via a communications network. In Japan, government and private industry are working together on developing Smart Grids. The greatest challenge is reducing construction cost.
Many electrical devices being used in homes already operate on direct current. PCs and peripheral devices, televisions, DVD decks and other digital equipment contain converters that change alternating current to direct current for use. Air-conditioners, microwave ovens and other appliances use inverters to change alternating current momentarily into direct current; the inverters then change the direct current into alternating current with a specific voltage and frequency. At present, direct-current power obtained from solar power generators is converted to alternating current before it is used by electrical appliances in the home. Unused electricity is sold to power companies. However, large energy loss resulting from conversion is a significant problem. The challenge is to reduce loss resulting from power conversion and thereby improve energy conservation.
The concept and challenges on the road to achievement
The key point here is a control mechanism that uses a sensor network system for home electrical equipment. Panasonic now offers such a product, named “Lifinity” (Life + Infinity), which is already in use in 25,000 households. Facilities and equipment of all kinds in the home are connected via a LAN (Local Area Network). All equipment and devices connected to home security and energy conservation systems are controlled automatically. They can also be monitored and controlled from a cell phone or other medium. Additionally, home power production and storage can be managed. Optimizing power supply while monitoring the operating state of each electrical device should reduce energy usage by about 20%.
This kind of mechanism is what Panasonic calls the . Complete with sensing functions, control functions, visualization functions and connectivity to smart meters, the Gateway fits under the heading “Intelligence.”
Dr. Nomura says: “Technologically, solar power generation, direct-current distribution, the Smart Energy Gateway mechanism and others have all reached the level of practical application. It is known that the IEC will decide on international standards for direct-current distribution below 1500V, within about five years. The electricity infrastructure will probably undergo a dramatic change. Looking ahead to the challenge, Panasonic is now taking the lead in advocating and designing .”
Incidentally, Edison devised a direct-current power distribution system some 130 years ago. However, alternating current became the global standard 10 years later. Since then, power transmission networks have been built around alternating current. Now, with global environmental concerns in the 21st century, the various merits of direct current are being reviewed. An era in which direct current will again reign supreme is approaching. We cannot say whether Edison foresaw such an era. In any case, the world is turning to a revival of Edison’s concept and striding towards mechanisms for dramatic advances in energy conservation.
(Kaniwa Hioki February 9, 2010)