Digital Electricity transmits power across long distances

Tuesday, 12 October, 2021 | Supplied by: Vicor Corporation

VoltServer, a manufacturer of power distribution products, is on a mission to change the future of energy delivery with its Digital Electricity technology that safely transmits up to 2 kW of power across long distances (up to 2 km) using off-the-shelf data cables. To date, the company’s technology has been deployed in hundreds of venues including stadiums, airports, convention centres, office towers, hotels, condominiums, hospitals and indoor gardens, powering 4G, 5G and Wi-Fi wireless communications, LED lighting and IoT applications.

Digital Electricity is a line powering system, which is a means of energising remote equipment from a centralised location over structured copper cable. It safely runs high-voltage power over lightweight data cable and delivers low current downstream to power loads. It’s a natively digital form of electricity transmission that can be considered a third power format in addition to the AC and DC formats.

VoltServer takes conventional electricity and breaks it into small pulses, or ‘energy packets’. Each packet is sent to a receiver from a transmitter that contains local, embedded processing. Each energy packet is analysed using a digital signal processing engine to determine that power is being precisely and safely distributed. If a fault is detected, the next energy packet is not sent. Each packet contains only a very small amount of energy, so individually they are not harmful to people, animals, systems or buildings. The receiver converts Digital Electricity back into analog AC or DC to power local loads.

“Imagine a powerful stream of water sent through your plumbing,” said VoltServer co-founder and CEO Stephen Eaves. “If a pipe were to burst, the high pressure could injure someone.

“Instead, break the stream down into millions of droplets. The droplets can be put back together to get the amount of water needed, but each droplet of water is safe. Digital Electricity is similar by only putting a small amount of energy in packets. Each packet becomes safe, but the total power needs can still be met.”

Because of its inherently safe energy-transfer design, the Digital Electricity platform can send power over a distance up to 2 km using off-the-shelf structured copper communications cable and Class 2, low-voltage wiring methods. Similar to Power over Ethernet (PoE), this enables VoltServer to transport both digital data and power in a single hybrid cabling infrastructure, which is said to make it easier and more economical to install than conventional 110/220 V electrical systems.

This simplicity allows architects, designers and facility managers to quickly and easily configure and reconfigure wireless networks, office floorplans and agricultural grow rooms. Because the platform is natively digital, it provides insights into energy use with a centralised dashboard. This gives building operators and maintenance staff a granular view of their electric grid to better manage critical loads while eliminating the need for traditional circuit breaker panels.

Power-efficient converters eliminate need for added cooling

Ruggedised, passively-cooled BCM DC-DC fixed-ratio bus converters from Vicor are designed into the receivers, transforming the higher transmission voltage to a safe low voltage to power the loads. The 97% power efficiency allows cooling without a fan, enabling the receivers to be placed in tight, enclosed spaces that are too small to accommodate cooling fans. This allows the VoltServer platform to operate efficiently with small heat sinks and shrinks the receiver footprint.

“With the Vicor converter, we have 43% less heat loss than a normal converter, and the heat sink size decreases proportionately,” said Dan Lowe, VoltServer co-founder and Chief Business Officer. “Our customers include the top three mobile network operators in the US, so the requirements for reliability are extremely demanding. That’s where Vicor comes in really, really neatly.”

VoltServer uses the Vicor compact BCM6123 fixed-ratio bus converter (25 x 61 x 7 mm) in the endpoint receivers to efficiently convert the power packets. Vicor BCMs use a proprietary, low-noise, high-efficiency Sine Amplitude Converter (SAC) topology that requires little electromagnetic filtration. This further shrinks the power system footprint and simplifies the design while meeting EMI standards.

“With so little electromagnetic filtering needed, we can make the Digital Electricity receiver very compact and mount it pretty much anywhere,” Lowe said. “Any other converter would generate more heat. That means that the receiver box would need to be much bigger and would require a lot more cooling — and ultimately would cost a lot more and be more difficult to install in space-constrained locations.”

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