Salvatore D’Arco

Chief Scientist at SINTEF

Salvatore d’ Arco

Power HIL for Smart Grids

National Smart Grid Laboratory is a system-oriented laboratory, jointly operated by NTNU and SINTEF. It provides state-of-the-art infrastructure for R&D, demonstration, verification, and testing over a wide range of Smart grid use cases. The laboratory enables the testing ground for the Smart Grids of tomorrow. EGSTON Power Amplifiers is well used by PhD/postDoc researchers from NTNU for power hardware in loop testing.

Learn more about the National Smart Grid Laboratory:

Read paper:
A Physics-Informed Scaling Method for Power Electronic Converters in Power Hardware-in-the-Loop Test Beds

We had a chance to speak with Salvatore D’Arco, Chief Research Scientist at SINTEF. He shared with us his experience as the first customer of EGSTON Power Electronics, telling us how the whole collaboration started, and what kind of challenges he faces in his day-to-day research.

How did you feel about being EGSTON Power Electronics first customer?

Being a young company´s first customer carries a certain amount of risk and uncertainty, but in a way you find yourself involved in the development of the product that you are going to receive, and that is both valuable and exciting. In such a situation, trust is all-important, and I trusted both EGSTON´s promise of an ideal solution for my purposes and their capability to really deliver.

It is noteworthy that developing the grid emulator and planning the laboratory happened basically at the same time, in a parallel process. In a way, we designed the laboratory around the EGSTON unit, and the EGSTON unit was specified based on our plans for the laboratory. This means we could achieve perfect integration, with all the obvious advantages for efficient workflow and ease of use.

„This means we could achieve perfect integration, with all the obvious advantages for efficient workflow and ease of use.“ – Salvatore D’Arco, PhD

Power HIL @ National Smart Grid Laboratory in Trondheim

How did you get to pick EGSTON as your partner in testing?

In the past, our laboratory was much more modest in terms of size and capabilities. We knew we needed to upgrade. In this context, we knew that we would like to go in the direction of Power Hardware in the Loop, but we were not quite sure which power amplifier would best suit our needs.

Investing in this kind of equipment is not something you do every day.  This is a decision with long-term implications and multiple factors to consider. You want to make really future-proof investment, and you need to make sure that the product you buy will really cover all your current and future needs.

We looked for the best possible option that the market can offer – the state of the art in terms of power amplifiers.

We wanted a switch mode amplifier with high dynamics. We initially considered going with a smaller linear amplifier, rather than a larger switch-mode amplifier, or something that offers a smaller bandwidth but works in all 4 quadrants.

Accidentally, our search brought us in contact with EGSTON Power Electronics. Back then, the company was in its early stages, but based on their amplifier specifications it looked like they could really meet our needs, and we picked them. Ever since the day of its installation we have been using their power amplifier regularly, and all things considered, the projects we handle, the type of experiments we can perform with this equipment, and the ease of use, I still think that EGSTON has been the right choice for us.

We heard you tried to play Mozart on that power amplifier. Seriously?

Seriously. That was really something else. After receiving the EGSTON unit, we tested it and prepared the final installation, and we had music playing in the background. Eventually, we discussed how we could showcase the performance of the system, and its bandwidth, and someone suggested, jokingly, that with such a huge bandwidth, it would even be possible to play music with it. The idea was a bit unusual, but we decided to give it a try. Initially, we tried it on a resistor, and I must say that the sound was horrible. Then, my colleague tried to play it on an inductor, and achieved an acceptable sound. So we played Mozart. After all, EGSTON is located near Vienna, Austria, where Mozart has written his finest music. It was a memorable experience, to say the least!

What was the most interesting project you have done using the Power Hardware in the Loop setup?

The best showcase was BESTPATHS, a large European project. The test setup included three multilevel converters that we built, and an emulator device to emulate the behavior of the grid. This was one of the first projects that we did with power amplifiers, and still counts among the best.

What is the key added value of using Power Hardware in the Loop?

Looking at the evolution of testing, you will see that it has taken quite an effort to communicate the importance of performing Real Time Simulations. Luckily, the situation has improved a lot by now, and walking through universities and research labs, you find Real Times Simulators running everywhere. I think that the next logical step is to go toward Power HIL, especially if you want to test your equipment in more realistic conditions.

Read Paper:
Assessing Hardware in the Loop Approaches for Wide-Area Monitoring Control and Protection Devices