Smart energy is getting even smarter

Writing for the Electronic Engineering Journal, Bryon Moyer recently took a closer look at the grid and a number of corresponding smart meter solutions.

After speaking with an Atmel engineering rep, Moyer concluded that complete solutions and reference designs are now “the name of the game.” As Moyer notes, Atmel, a leading supplier of smart meter solutions, has effectively categorized the market into five primary spaces:

  • The analog front end (AFE), which touches the actual power;
  • Metrology, which is where the bill collector gets his or her data;
  • The ubiquitous application processor, where you can do everything that you haven’t decided to cast into hardware;
  • Communications protocols and encryption; and
  • The communication physical layer.

“The figure above contrasts various solutions they provide at different levels of integration. The first row is a more-or-less discrete solution to the problem, with only the AFE and metrology combined,” writes Moyer. “The second row is for system houses that already have an approved metrology module that they don’t want to touch (because they’d need to go through approval again). So it integrates the other three columns.”

Meanwhile, the third row reflects the interests of designers who want to keep analog physical separate from digital. As such, says Moyer, digital bits are all combined, with separate power-line and communications PHY circuits. Indeed, the last row helps keep communications PHY separate, as reflected in the integration shown in the final row. On the software side, engineers can:

  • Optimize the power factor;
  • Streamline efficiency;
  • Detect wear-out, so that, for example, they can see ahead of time when a transformer is getting ready to fail; and
  • Identify the power signatures of various appliances, both so that the homeowner can do a better job of managing his or her power and so that even the utility can help to manage the load by reaching in and tweaking with the appliances.

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, Atmel recently debuted a new and comprehensive smart energy platform designed specifically for smart grid communications, electricity, gas and water metering systems and energy measurement applications.

According to Kourosh Boutorabi, Atmel’s Sr. Director of Smart Energy Products, the Atmel SAM4Cx platform includes several system-on-chip (SoC) devices built around a dual-core ARM Cortex-M4 architecture with advanced security, metrology, wireless and power-line communications (PLC) options.

“The unique and highly flexible platform addresses OEM’s system partitioning, bill of materials (BOM) and time-to-market requirements with the widest range of integration and performance optimization options available in the market today,” Boutorabi explains. “Flexibility to address a new and diverse set of smart grid communications and metrology standards with low power system-on-chip solutions are crucial requirements for OEMs targeting high-volume deployments.”

To be sure, key features of Atmel’s smart energy platform include best-in-class metrology with class 0.2 accuracy and dynamic range of up to 6000:1 for single and poly-phase applications; low-power PRIME PLC connectivity with integrated line driver; advanced cryptography; the ability to integrate application, communication and metrology; up to 2Mbytes of embedded Flash and 304Kbytes of SRAM with external memory expansion option. Additional specs include low-power RTC, LCD and anti-tamper feature sets designed to reduce smart meter BOM by as much as 40 percent.

Interested in learning more about Atmel’s new and comprehensive smart energy platform? Be sure to check out our official product page here.

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