Smart Grids

The current electrical grid, built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, is created for relatively low power consumption and only has one-way communication, from the power company to the consumer. The smart grid enables two-way communication between the consumer and the power company. The two-way communication and control systems are made possible by Phasor Measurement Units (PMUs) and advanced digital meters. The PMUs give the power company access to better grid stability combined with the advanced digital meters, give consumers better information about their power use, outages in the area, and allow power to be re-routed around problems automatically.

 The two-way communication allows for a better analysis of the supply and demand for power in a particular area. Accurate supply and demand statistics mean a more efficient power grid with fewer losses. The smart grid also safeguards against blackouts that could affect banking, communications, traffic, security, and losing heat for long periods in the winter months. The domino effect of an outage is countered with the two-way communication along with automatic safeguards. The smart grid can detect and isolate these blackouts, minimizing their impact on the community.

Smart grid technology also means better prices for the consumer. Consumers can better decide on their consumption amount according to the current power prices and the information they are given by the advanced digital meters. The awareness of price and consumption by the consumer will shift the peak demands, and power companies will also reduce their peak demand and, thus, their operating costs.


Cochlear Implants

What are Cochlear Implants?

Cochlear implants are similar to hearing aids, in the sense that they help a user better hear their surroundings, but they do so differently. While hearing aids amplify the sound around you, cochlear implants are small electronic devices that are surgically implanted deep in the inner ear to produce electronic pulses to stimulate the auditory nerves.

The cochlear implant contains the following parts:

Ear with cochlear implant
  • Microphone – Takes in sound from the user’s environment and sends it to the speech processor
  • Speech Processor – Turns sound into digital sound then sends it to the transmitter
  • Transmitter & Receiver – Receives sound from the speech processor and outputs electronic pulses to be sent to the electrode array
  • Electrode Array – An array of electrodes that trigger corresponding auditory nerves to inform the brain of the ambient sounds.

As can be seen, cochlear implants work in a far different manner than typical hearing aids and are used for severe cases of hearing loss. While both do help a user hear, the hearing aid works by using a microphone to pick up ambient noises and boost that sound into a user ears, working as a middleman. Cochlear implants on the other hand work as a sort of artificial hearing and involve a surgical procedure to get them implanted, so they can stimulate the auditory nerves.


How do Cochlear Implants relate to analog and power systems?

Cochlear implants use a microphone to take in analog sound and convert it into digital sound which can then be split into electronic impulses to stimulate the auditory nerves so an individual who has suffered extreme hearing loss can hear once again.

Fig[2] Nicoletti, Michele & Wirtz, Chr & Hemmert, Werner. (2013). Modeling Sound Localization with Cochlear Implants. 10.1007/978-3-642-37762-4_12.

Fig 2 shows a diagram of the input/ouput system that is the cochlear implant. As can be seen, analog sound is first picked up from the microphone, which is immediately processed and amplified. The filter bank then separates the sound into separate frequency bands, which then go to an envelope detector so that each of the incoming channels can be identified with their own energy and place in time. Finally is it processed from this acoustic range into electronic impulses that go into the respective channel for electrodes that correspond with each electrical dynamic range.


Nicoletti, Michele & Wirtz, Chr & Hemmert, Werner. (2013). Modeling Sound Localization with Cochlear Implants. 10.1007/978-3-642-37762-4_12.

What challenges do Cochlear Implants face today?

Most of the challenges that face cochlear implants today come from not the device itself, but the surgical procedure required to get them. The surgery could cause damage to the facial nerve which could lead to full paralysis f the side of the face that the nerve was damaged on. Along with this meningitis, tinnitus, numbness, verebrospinal fluid leakage are all possible complications resulting from the surgical installation of cochlear implants. On the technology side, users have experienced the sounds heard via cochlear implants to sound artificial or mechanical. Along with this, if the implant fails, then the user has to undergo the surgery once more to have it removed. This is also the case for upgrading the implant, in some cases individual upgrades may not be possible and the implant will have to be removed and a new one implanted.


Useful resources to learn more about Cochlear Implants

The following video succinctly explains how cochlear implants work, though this is specifically for the SYNCHRONY branded cochlear implant. This video is more technical.

The following episode of ELEMENTS (Season 2, Episode 47) by Seeker provides a great overview explanation of cochlear implants and is more entertaining and easier to understand.

Duke Health has a great article that goes more in depth about the differences between cochlear implants and hearing aids.

Smart grid research

What is a smart grid?

  • A smart grid Is a new format of transporting power to replace the outdated current one-way system. As time goes on our current power transportation system becomes more and more obsolete. The smart grid offers a two way communication network between the power provider and the consumer. The smart grid allows for easy integration of newer energy production like solar panels and wind turbines.
  • Source:

How does smart grid relate to analog/power?

  • The smart grid relates to power because it deals directly with the transportation of power between producers and consumers. The smart grid will communicate more reliably and securely by providing a whole network of communication as opposed to just a single line of communication.
  • Source:

What challenges do smart grids face today?

  • One challenge that the smart grid faces today is data management. With the rise of communication rate and accessibility, there needs to be a better way to manage the data than ever in the past. Just as there was an improvement in transportation of communication and power there needs to be an improvement in the way it is managed.
  • Source:

What are some useful resources to learn more about smart grids?

What are the benefits of smart grids?

Smart grids offer an assortment of optimizations for power companies, many of which end up directly benefiting consumers

  • Better consumption monitoring: Optimized measuring of energy consumption anywhere on the grid can help consumers save money by being better informed and receiving more accurate bills. Energy companies can save money by having a better idea of how much energy a community needs, saving both money and resources.
  • Reduced Electricity Fraud and Loss: Through increased monitoring capabilities, energy companies are able to detect cases of electrical fraudulence or loss with higher accuracy, which can help reduce the cost of energy for its customers.  
  • Increased Competition: More comprehensive knowledge on load curves help companies change their prices to better reflect the demand of the community. This encourages more competitive pricing and offers that more accurately reflect the needs of consumers
  • Improved Security and Restoration Times: Being able to gather more information about the condition of the grid allows power companies to more effectively recognize problem areas before they cause outages. Additionally, when outages are caused, smart grids allow companies to better determine the source and cause of the problem, significantly reducing the amount of time it takes to restore power.
  • Efficient Power Transmission: Smart grids supply power companies with data that allows them to better optimize how electricity is delivered. This can lead to more stabilized grids and lower power costs.


Ambient Power Harvesting!

This paper was one of the first ones I dove into while taking ECE 203. Although a lot of it was over my head at the time, I think this paper is great for a few reasons that merit making a post.

  1. It has an amazing premise. Harvesting milivolts of power? From random sources? Count me in. This is such a cool concept!
  2. It shows a number of different use cases, with various amounts of success. The authors did not cherry-pick their results.
  3. It provides a striking example of the interdependence of analog and digital systems. Power supplies are often thought of as purely analog. However, in this paper the circuit uses an Atmega128 to maximize the power extracted.

“A Multiple-Input Boost Converter for Low-Power Energy Harvesting” IEEE Link

Power Draw from Multiple Sources

Because I have a project in mind which would eventually use a main and reserve power source isolated from each other until the main source is depleted, I want to ask if anyone knows about how such a system is achieved and what things need to be considered in designing the system to accomplish minimal reserve power loss.

Textbook on Aspects of Power Circuit Engineering

The textbook “Fundamentals of Power Electronics” by Robert W. Erickson and Dragan Maksimović of the University of Colorado appears to be, upon reading of the first few sections, a good resource to explain concepts of power engineering that one might want to know. Similar to past events, the first few subsections of the first chapter introduce basic concepts and terminology while diagramming some more complex systems of interest. The latest edition of the book is the 2nd edition, but there is evidently a 3rd edition which is expected to be published this year.