The humble circuit breaker is one of the most ubiquitous & overlooked building blocks of the electricity grid. I talk with an inventor/entrepreneur who has developed a solid-state digital circuit breaker about all the many opportunities for smarter grids that it opens up.
Will listen later tonight...but having circuit breakers be programmable opens up a *significant* threat surface.
Imagine a foreign power combining this with control over the power grid.
Combine this circuit breaker + V2G charger technology with stationary storage batteries & solar parking lot canopies on all existing parking lots with more than 80 parking spaces & you have the most rapidly deployable, widely distributed, modular, neighborhood micro grid model available, everywhere lots of people live & work. Already adopted by France & proposed in California.
One of the elements that was missing from the conversation, which I think translates into some inherent limitations for making the circuit breaker the right point for monitoring and controlling loads/assets, is customer needs.
The spectrum of customer needs is huge - occupant comfort, vehicle readiness, sewage pumping, water heating, industrial processes, municipal lighting, etc. Even a smart circuit breaker is relatively dumb with respect to supporting and prioritizing customer needs effectively. I'm sure there are great use cases for digital circuit breakers, but my experience in helping customers manage demand-side flexibility and in mixed asset aggregation/VPP tells me that putting the intelligence, monitoring, and control in the hands of specialized control systems and customers is going to be key to unlocking the potential behind distributed energy assets and demand-side flexibility.
While the digital circuit breaker sounds great, and indeed it makes sense that it should be the next evolution in the circuit breaker market, positioning it as a simple one-size-fits-all solution is just extremely unlikely to work in practice at the level of scale described. Rather the digital circuit breaker is a new tool that adds to the capabilities that make the smart grid of the future possible.
Always love to learn new things! I never really thought about the ubiquity of the ancient thermal/magnetic breaker...If I'm not mistaken, I think the question being asked about interoperability is: if digital circuit breakers from other vendors appear, will the Atom's breakers be more like Apple or Android? As far as Mr. Kennedy's statement about inappropriateness of having firmware critical to safety "open" or not - I don't get it: If the firmware is open, anyone can pick it apart and verify that it does what it's supposed to do. Just because it's open doesn't mean that anybody can have their own firmware replace what's there...Open source cryptography software is MORE secure than proprietary cryptography software. I would argue that safety critical firmware would be MORE safe than proprietary firmware for the same reason..
Listened to this pod this weekend.
I do a fair bit of work in policy relating to EV charging in multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs - a key market noted by Mr. Kennedy of Atom Power) and other building types.
I wasn't convinced by Atom Power that the circuit breaker is the logical place for the monitoring of loads, nor for energy management systems (EMS) computing power, to be located. Current networked EVSE charging services can do several things, including sharing multiple EVSE on a branch circuit, and throttling up/down power (as opposed to just on/off).
In order to share branch circuits between EVSE (or other devise), you would need these devices to be networked (i.e. "smart" - able to communicate with the circuit breakers via LTE, wireless, ethernet, etc.). Indeed, from what I can glean from Atom Power's PURPL network, this is there model? The EVSE are in fact networked, and will then talk to the breaker (or maybe directly to the cloud service)? Otherwise, you are limited to dedicated branch circuits - for MURBs and many fleets, this is more costly wiring configuration. Maybe you'd save money on smart circuit breakers vs. smart EVSE, but I'd need to see the actual costs.
If you were to just use control loads at the circuit breaker level of branch circuits, and have non-networked appliances / EVSE at the end, my understanding is that one would be limited to only "on/off" control. (I couldn't tell if perhaps the solid state technology of the Atom Power breaker allows it to act more as a "valve" variating flow, vs. purely an on/off breaker). Alternately, with networked end use equipment, the device could throttle the power up and down. For example, a heat pump with a variable speed motor is probably not suitable for on/off, but throttling up/down as part of a carefully designed energy management system might be viable, and a valuable asset for full electrification. So again, having the control at the breaker level doesn't seem to me like the ground-breaking solution, versus having "smart" networked equipment/appliances/EVSE.
So, in any event, still skeptical after the pod. But I wish them luck, and would gladly receive any rebuttal/clarification on the above. There do seem to be some potential advantages to the tech.
We have a thirty amp breaker feeding our 220 line for our EVSE, I’m no electrician, but I’m pretty sure the claim in the episode that I could swap out that breaker for this smart breaker and then connect a 70 amp evse is not true. Even if we were to change the breaker, the gauge of the electrical wire from the breaker to the EVSE is for a 30 amp load. I am pretty sure If I wanted to put in a 40 amp breaker and a 40 amp EVSE I would have to have an electrician pull out the old gauge wire and install a gauge of wire that supports the higher load. Swapping out a circuit breaker for a larger smart breaker like this pod seems to suggest can’t deliver a greater electrical load unless the wiring is upgraded as well.
I'm an electrical engineer by profession and this addresses an issue I face daily in my job - how to add electrical vehicle charging stations at facilities without having to increase the size of their electrical services to astronomical/unaffordable capacities. I confess to stil having lots of questions after listening to this podcase... Is there a way to address questions to Ryan Kennedy directly?
Never gave much thought to circuit breakers, so this was a wonderful explanation. The "threat" was addressed in the podcast. Now just waiting for Atom Power EV chargers. Then hope they soon get them sized down for apartment breaker boxes.