The 10 reasons to hit the market under a licensing agreement

Accord de licence

Introduction

 

You now have your product, your Provisional Patent Application (PPA) is in force in the United States and you manage to make 50 sales per month. Let me first congratulate you! You’re off to a second source of income to complement your main job.

 

But then, why sign a licensing agreement and share your business success and profits with another company? Why not rent an space, buy machinery, find staff, buy a truck and build relationships with reputable distributors?

To avoid having to do all these tasks at the same time!

 

I present to you the 10 reasons why you hit the market under a licensing agreement.

These reasons come from the great book One Simple Idea by Stephen Key. I recommend it!

 

The opinions expressed herein should not be considered in any way as legal advice. For more information, please consult your patent agent or patent attorney.


1- Get to market fast

First to market wins

The sooner you reach the market, the sooner you can dominate it. Rather than establishing the distribution channels yourself, the licensing agreement gives you access to existing networks of a reputable manufacturer. In addition, you rely on the their already established reputation and credibility, which could take you several years to build alone.


2- Little financial risk

Little financial risk

As we saw in the previous blog post, starting a business is a daunting adventure. It will take several years of bootstrapping, knowing that the commercial success may not be there. For your first innovation, the licensing agreement puts the risk on the side of that manufacturer. If commercial success is not there, you will not have lost your home or years of work.

With the royalties that this first license agreement will pay you, you can then absorb the losses should your second innovation be a financial pitfall. Finally, and since job security no longer exists for anyone, these royalties could be the difference between tightening your belt and having to sell your house and move back with your parents. In any business, never forget that there is always someone who has a budget to balance.


3- Don’t need to raise capital

Venture Capitalist

To be able to launch your innovation, you need capital. To find capital, you need a business plan and partners. While you can prepare yourself a business plan, finding partners will take time. You will need to find one or two people with background and experience complementary to yours, but with the same desire to succeed. And then there is the personality, the availability, the priorities and many other reasons why it will or will not work.

 

In love, I would hope that you will not throw yourself at the feet of the first partner. Same thing goes for business!

 

The licensing agreement allows you to avoid all that. Better yet, it will allow you to put some money aside that you can use as seed money for your 2nd or 3rd innovation.


4- Great for creative individuals who don’t want to run a company

Guitarist or artist

Even if I want each of you to succeed in business, some personalities lend themselves to it more than others. In general, the more inventive, the more introverted. Or they have trouble selling their innovations to customers.

The typical image of the mad inventor in his workshop is not so far fetched. Think Doc Brown from Back to the future franchise!

With the licensing agreement, you put your innovation in the hands of a company with an experienced sales team. It will transform your innovation into an irresistible product for consumers.

 

Pro Tip: Get into sales or telemarketing for one or two years.

I can already hear all the parents and other well-intended people around you screaming that you’re going to ruin your career! That the sales are for the hot egocentric and aggressive Chad and Stacy of this world and that telemarketing is for losers who could not find anything better! It is true that sales attract more flamboyant personalities and that telemarketing is reputed to recruit people with less professional qualifications. However, you will develop two skills rarely taught at school:

 

A) you will practice and practice again how to present, convince and negotiate, skills that are rarely developed among professionals and college grads.

B) you will overcome your fear of rejection and that you will keep at it again and again until you succeed.

This is what separates the employee and the entrepreneur.

 

The employee accepts everything that the company gives him as work and settles for it. The entrepreneur looks for and persists in creating opportunities until he or she succeeds.

 


5- No experience required

No experience required

As a new innovator, you have everything to learn and this learning will take time. The licensing agreement allows you to minimize the learning curve to successfully launch a product on the market. You could even do without online sales and go directly to the manufacturer with your PPA. But expect to sign a much less generous licensing agreement or hit a lot more closed doors because your product has not gained traction. Basically, here’s what a reputable manufacturer could tell you:

 

We have thoroughly analyzed your product and believe that it has a future with us. According to our market research, we will have to present it differently to the customer. It will be necessary to allocate more funds to marketing and sales teams. For these reasons, we can only offer you 3% on sales.

 

If you had invested the time to learn how to make online sales with Shopify, analyze your customer base with Google Analytics and Google AdWords, did contract manufacturing and drop shipping, you could answer as follows:

 

I’m already making sales via Shopify and the trends are on the rise for the summer. Google Analytics and AdWords already allow me to do my marketing. With contract manufacturing and drop shipping, I know the costs of production and delivery. And I know that the royalties that are paid in your industry for an innovation like mine are around 7%.

 

In other words, don’t bullshit me! I know what my innovation is worth and what it can bring you. If you are not happy, I will gladly go see your competitor and you will lose those sales! All that said with more tact, of course.


6- Little time invested

Little time invested

The licensing agreement puts the time and marketing efforts into the hands of the manufacturer. This frees you to work on other innovations.


7- ROI is high based on what little money you invest

ROI and growing money

If you minimize your expenses related to your innovation from the outset, your Return On Investment or ROI could be very high. For example, do the market research yourself, model your innovation with free software like SketchUp, build yourself a homemade prototype and start field testing for $ 100! Same thing for patentability and research on intellectual property databases. Same thing for the preparation of a first draft of a Canadian pending patent application or a United States PPA.

 

Pro tip: For your first innovation, I recommend presenting to a patent agent or patent attorney.

He or she will start from your research and your draft, validate that everything is in correct and will file the Provisional Patent Application on your behalf. This is an investment between $ 3000 and $ 5000.

If commercial success is there, expect $ 10,000 royalties, or even $ 40,000 per year for 20 years! Not bad for an initial investment of $ 5,100!

And for your next innovations, now that you have the experience, why not write and submit your own application for a pending Canadian patent or US PPA? If you are meticulous and take the time to learn how to prepare it correctly, nothing prevents you from submitting it yourself for $ 200. Your return of $ 40,000 per year for 20 years would come from an investment of a few hundred dollars. Now that’s some serious return on investment!


8- Let them pay for the patent

Let them pay

Remember that a Canadian Pending Patent Application or United States PPA IS NOT a patent. So, a company that decides to steal your innovation can do so. However, as the PPA lasts for only one year and savvy inventors turn to reputable manufacturer through a licensing agreement, the investment in machinery and the time to train staff will be lost.

 

The strength of the PPA is in the appearance of property.

 

Here again, for your first innovation, offer them to pay for the patent in for exclusivity to manufacture, sell and distribute. If commercial success does not happen, you will only lose the cost of the PPA, rather than the cost of the PPA and the patent.


9- Let their lawyers duke it out in your name

Let their lawyers fight for you

Let’s jump ahead a few years in time: you have your PPA, you manage to sign a licensing agreement with a reputable manufacturer and he agrees to pay for the patent. Your patent application is accepted, sales have exploded and you are starting to attract the attention of unscrupulous manufacturers. Despite your patent, they drown the market with counterfeit products sold for a fifth of your price. Sales drop as a result of unfair competition. What do you do?

 

By inserting a special clause into the licensing agreement, the manufacturer will send his lawyers to fight on your behalf!

 

A company doing counterfeiting knows very well that an inventor can not afford to hire a reputable lawyer. It also relies on the slowness of legal proceedings and in some extreme cases, it can close, then reopen under a new name, reintroduce a variant of your product and start again. Not only do you lose money, but you have to pay the lawyer out of your pocket every time? No thanks!

 

Pro Tip: Use Influencers Instagram Influencers and YouTube Stars to Promote Your Product

See it as an investment to multiply sales. In addition, by associating value and lifestyle by these influencers and stars to your product, your customers will be much less inclined to buy a product considered low-end.

Sell on value and lifestyle, never on cost! Think of Starbucks coffee. People do not just buy coffee, they buy an artistic lifestyle made of poorly written books!

 

Bonus Pro Tip: Declare that you pay one dollar for each sale to a social cause dear to your customers.

Once again, people are not just buying, they are contributing to a cause and you are giving them the opportunity to change things. Think of Ronald McDonald’s Breakfasts Club for example!

 

The idea here is to create such market dominance that counterfeiter will lose money right from the start and look for easier targets elsewhere.

 


10- You don’t have to leave your dayjob

Keep your dayjob

Thanks to the PPA and the licensing agreement, you can build property without leaving your job, whatever you do. This is similar to people who are part-time renovating rental real estate or investing in the stock market on the weekend. Everyone has a job, but everyone agrees that this job could end at any moment.

 

Prior to the 1973 oil shock, money was set aside for rainy days. Today, you have to build a business, buy rental real estate or stock market investments to continue to generate money for rainy days!

 


Conclusion

 

You have just discovered my 10 reasons to hit the market with a licensing agreement. It is about minimizing financial risks, generating maximum return on investment while minimizing efforts. For your first innovation, it’s better a small slice of a big pie than 100% no pie at all!

In the next post, I will discuss the main elements of a licensing agreement.

 

3 roads to the US market – Drop it, the Patent and the PPA

Roads to the US market

Introduction

 

Congratulations, you have just created your first innovation! You can not wait to conquer the US market, sell to thousands of customers and make millions of dollars. Do you believe you won’t need intellectual property? Or do you think you can get to the market first and maintain your competitive advantage? Think again!

 

Did you know that an innovation that is not protected can be legally copied? That a dishonest manufacturer can apply for a patent before you, then accuse you of stealing his idea? Or that a product that is not protected by a patent can be copied in China in 2 weeks and land on the US market in one month?

 

For all these reasons and many more, I present to you today 3 roads to the market in the United States. These are:

  • Drop It If You Don’t See Commercial Potential
  • File a Patent Application and Manufacture and Distribute the Invention Yourself
  • Try to Sell Invention to a Manufacturer With a PPA

 

These roads come from the excellent book Patent it yourself – Your step-by-step guide to filing at the U.S. Patent Office by David Pressman. I recommend it!

 

The opinions expressed herein should not be considered in any way as legal advice. For more information, please consult your patent agent or patent attorney.


1- Drop It If You Don’t See Commercial Potential

Abandoned car

 

Abandoning an innovation is always a painful but necessary decision. Of course, you have invested a few weeks or even months of work but you will not lose anymore. It is better to realize that your innovation has no future for the moment, than to ruin your health and wallet to push a product that the market does not want. And marketing companies won’t help you assess the commercial potential of your invention, on the contrary! The idea here is to find the innovation that will generate the maximum profit for a minimum of risk and effort.

 

The good news is that the more you invent, the more skilled you become at inventing.

Plant growing back

 

For example, my first invention, the Umbrella Arm Clip, took me 7 months to create the prototype and assess the market! The SnowClaw took 3, while the Abs Flippers took me one month.

Then there are many things you can not know in advance or anticipate. That’s why you have to find partners or a close friend who will give you a reality check about your innovation. And even then, there are mistakes you must make to change your perspective on the product.

 

Pro Tip: Avoid the highly regulated sectors of the automobile or aviation.

Sectors to avoid

 

The reason is that there are so many different standards, norms and codes that it’s impossible to know them all. The last thing you want is for some government official to declare your invention illegal because it violates a regulation you did not think of.

For example, the SnowClaw is a product that allows cars to pull themselves out of the snow banks by being attaching to the drive wheels. The problem is that this is considered an illegal modification to the vehicle by Transport Canada.

 

Bonus Pro Tip: Follow the Startup Course offered by SAJE Montreal.

Whiteboard markers

 

Lasting 330 hours, you will see the Business Model Canvas to clarify your ideas, the business plan, the financial arrangement, as well as the operation of a company.

 

The real benefit of this course is that you will start to see your inventions through the eye of a businessman, no longer as an inventor.

 

Thus, you will be able to judge very quickly if your ideas have commercial potential or not. Better yet, this $ 6000 training is free and paid by Emploi Québec. So why not?


2- File a Patent Application and Manufacture and Distribute the Invention Yourself

The patent

 

Very difficult road to start on for your first innovation. Here are the reasons:

 

  • The cost of a patent, which can reach several thousand dollars.
  • Obtaining a patent can take years, with much communication between you and the United States Patent Trade Office (USPTO).
  • Despite all your research, commercial success may not be at there
  • The learning curve and the time required to make, promote and sell your product all by yourself is absolutely gigantic! The next section will give you an idea of the workload that awaits you.

 

However, if you succeed and the commercial success is there, you will pocket the lion’s share of the profits generated by sales.


3- Try to Sell Invention to a Manufacturer With a PPA

Conference man presenting

 

This involves filing a Provisional Patent Application (PPA) with the USPTO before contacting any manufacturer. In addition, do not file until you have prepared your design book so you can prove that you are the inventor of your product.

 

3.1 The role of the PPA

top secret seal

 

Although the PPA does not allow you to sue a infringing company that has copied your product, it signals to said company that you could soon get a full patent. Therefore, an infringing company will lose its investment in machinery and manufacturing molds once you have your full patent in force and a court orders said company to stop producing and selling its copied product.

 

3.2 PPA, marketing and sales

Ecommerce credit card goods

 

Once your PPA has been granted, you will have one year to promote your product and test the market. During this period, you will have to use all the means at your disposal to sell your product. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, WooCommerce, Shopify, Google AdWords and Google Analytics are platforms with which you will have to familiarize yourself well before launching your product on the market. Here is a very brief explanation for each of them:

 

  • Kickstarter and Indiegogo are crowdfunding platforms. In return for financial support, you will offer these first customers a limited edition of your products or non-monetary services that they could highly appreciate.
  • WooCommerce and Shopify are online sales platforms. Thus, you will not need a physical point of sale to sell your stocks.
  • Google AdWords is a platform that lets you test which keywords are generating the most search for your product. So you can try for a week a combination of different words and see which ones resonate the most with your customers.
  • Google Analytics is a platform to get to know who your customers are and how to better target them. Linked to your website and to an online sales platform, you will be able to determine the profile of your customers, what sites they came from, how they buy, etc.

 

More on all these platforms in another blog post!

 

3.3 PPA, contract manufacturing and drop shipping

forklift warehouse

 

In addition, you will need to familiarize yourself with the concepts of contract manufacturing and drop shipping well before launching your product on the market. Once again, here is a very rudimentary explanation for each of them:

 

  • Contract manufacturing is to sub-contract the manufacturing of your product to a factory that is not yours. Indeed, this method of manufacture allows you to have your product made without requiring from you investments in a business location, machinery, tools and manpower. If sales are not there, you will have lost only the value of the manufacturing contract, rather than being stuck to pay for a local and machinery that are now useless. Excellent way to test the market.

 

  • With drop shipping, you delegate the logistics of delivering your products to a third party. This company will take care of contacting the factory with which you have a contract manufacturing agreement and will deliver your products to distributors or directly to customers. If sales are not there, you will have lost only the value of the drop shipping agreement, rather than being stuck with a now useless delivery truck. Once again, THE way to test the market.

More about contract manufacturing and drop shipping in another blog post!

 

The idea here is to generate a certain volume of sales while minimizing risks, then to turn to a reputable manufacturer in the field of your product.

 

3.4 Meeting a reputable manufacturer and signing the licensing deal

business people handshake deal

 

Armed with your Shopify or WooCommerce sales figures as proof of traction, raised capital with Indiegogo or Kickstarter, top keywords for SEO from Google AdWords, customers profiles with Google Analytics and factory production figures thanks to contract manufacturing and your PPA, you can then sign with them a licensing agreement infinitely stronger than going in naked!

A license agreement is a contractual agreement whereby a manufacturer agrees to sell a number X of units of your product in Y territory for Z years. In exchange, you give them the right to use your patent, while keeping ownership. You are the landlord, they are the tenants. They will sell and market your product, but under their company logo. This agreement may be exclusive or not.

 

Once at said manufacturer, here is what you could say:

 

With all the proof of traction that I just presented and knowing that my product will integrate wonderfully with your product line, would you be interested in signing with my company a license agreement?

I am ready to offer you exclusivity in the State of New York for one year with extension if a minimum of 1000 sales per month is reached. In return, I want 8 to 10% of sales.

 

Better yet, if your sales are not enough to convert your PPA into a full patent, you could agree with this manufacturer to have him pay for the patent in exchange for exclusivity. The licensing agreement is a whole different subject and I’ll cover it in another blog post!

All these steps for online sales give you an idea of the magnitude of producing, promoting and selling yourself! Hence the importance of finding partners to help you and signing a license agreement with a reputable manufacturer.

 

For your first invention, better a small portion of a big pie that 100% of no pie at all!


Conclusion

 

Congratulations! You have just discovered some of the routes leading to the commercial success of your product using intellectual property in the United States. Here they are:

 

  • The dead end: give up and move on to another innovation if the first has no commercial potential.
  • The one that pays the most: file a full patent before producing and selling yourself.
  • The safest: submit your PPA application and once in hand, test the market for a year and sign a license agreement with a reputable manufacturer.

 

In the next article, I will discuss the main elements of a licensing agreement.

Crash Course Fire alarm – Signaling devices

Cloche d'alarme incendie

Introduction

 

Your boss puts you on an fire alarm design job, but your knowledge is limited to your smoke detector at home? Is it true that a pull station contains an inkjet to incriminate you if you pull it for no other reason than to shorten your Friday? These are the questions I will try to help you with in this series of posts on building fire alarm systems.

 

These posts are intended, but not limited to:

 

  • Electrical engineers from consulting engineering firms
  • Subcontractors at fire alarm companies
  • Junior engineers who have no idea what it is (trust me, i’ve been there once!)

 

The fire alarm scope is the responsibility of the electrical engineer. The fire alarm system is not intended to suppress the fire, but rather to detect the fire, facilitate the evacuation of personnel and alert the fire department.

I will introduce today the signaling devices that are part of fire alarm system.


1- Standards in force

Code de Construction du Québec

 

For current articles of the Quebec Construction Code, please refer to:

 

  • Warning Signals and Warning Signs (CCQ Article 3.2.4.17)
  • Audibility of Signals (CCQ Article 3.2.4.18)
  • Phonic communication network (CCQ Article 3.2.4.21)

 

Please note that while Quebec has its own Construction Code, you should also learn from the american National Fire Protection Agency or NFPA as an additional reference.


2- Non phonic signaling

 

Non-phonic communication is any form of auditory signal that is not verbal communication. For example, bells, horns, mini horns, sirens and bullhorns are examples.

 

A) Bell

Fire alarm bell

 

Bells are available in different sizes, motorized or vibrating. The sound produced is both powerful and metallic. Ideal for spaces occupied by many people. NFPA 72 requires that a non phonic signal be at least 15dB above ambient noise. Since the offices have an ambient noise of 50 to 60dB, the bells resonate at a power of 65 to 75dB! Colored with firefighter red, it is forbidden to paint them. The power supply is 120V AC, but can be 24V DC or even 6V DC.

Trustworthy manufacturer: Kidde

 

B) Horn

Fire alarm horn

 

The horn produces a deep, piercing sound that is easily distinguishable. The case is made of sturdy and flame retardant plastic in red or white color. The advantage of the horn over the bell is that it is possible to transmit a signal continuously or a signal punctuated with pauses.

For example, rather than having a beeeeeeeep, it is possible to have beep … beep … beep … pause … beep … beep … beep … pause, etc. Finally, it is possible to adjust the frequency of the horn to have an high pitch or a low pitch sound. Ideal for different scenarios of evacuation or relocation of staff according to the functionality of the building.

 

C) Mini horn

Fire alarm mini horn

 

Designed primarily for homes and condominiums, the mini horn is more discreet and less noisy. Molded in a sturdy plastic case, it can be red or white in color. It is possible to obtain it with an integrated silence function.

 

D) Bullhorn siren

Fire alarm bullhorn siren

Not exactly like your hand held bullhorn, but close. The bullhorn siren is able to transmit the voice, but with a lot of distortion and garble. It is also capable of producing an extremely high decibel sound. The sound is close to the warnings sirens used during the Second World War to warn citizens of incoming bombing raids. Today, they are found on sawmill yards, boats and in some factories.


3- Phonic Signaling – Speakers

 

Fire alarm speaker

 

The speakers allow the integrated broadcast of understandable emergency voice messages, warning and alarm signals. These are very discreet and blend well with the ceiling tiles. Ideal for office environments. The power is adjustable on site by the building maintenance team. Equipped with a steel case, round or square, they are usually white. However, it is forbidden to paint them under penalty of losing the certification.


4- Visual Signaling – Strobe

Fire alarm strobe

 

Visual signaling is used to alert people with hearing impairments or when the noise level is too high and workers are known to wear hearing protection. Ideal in the factory. Molded in a sturdy and flame retardant plastic case, it is usually red or white in color. There are also suspended ceiling models like this one.

Fire alarm ceiling strobe

The set of strobes requires the use of a synchronization module if it is desired that the strobes all flash at the same time.


5- Combined sound and visual signaling

 

As its name would suggest, sound and visual signaling combines both. Thus, there is the bell strobe,

Fire alarm bell strobe

 

the horn strobe

Fire alarm horn strobe

 

and the speaker strobe.

Fire alarm speaker strobe

 

With the advent of light-emitting diodes or LEDs, combined sound and visual signaling is replacing purely visual or sound systems. With the very low cost of LEDs, many residential, commercial and industrial property owners opt for the combined option for reasons of diligence towards the hearing impaired or for security reasons.

In hotels for example, thanks to the Internet of Things and the lower costs of LEDs, it is perfectly possible to have a set of visual and auditory signaling that flashes sequentially to indicate the flow of evacuation, such as the signaling on airport tarmac and runways.


6- Firefighter phone

Firefighter phone

 

As a kid, who hasn’t worn a firefighter hat while pretending to take emergency phone calls! The firefighter phone allows firefighters to communicate with the operator of the main fire alarm panel when they are on the different building floors. Thus, next to each manual pull station near an emergency exit is a firefighter phone.

The two-way communication request is made when the handset of a floor telephone is off-hook. The firefighter at the main fire panel charge at the station is then notified by visual and sound signals and can then connect to that circuit.


Conclusion

 

The fire alarm is a vast subject for which the electrical engineer is responsible. You learned today which articles were in force concerning signaling and where to look for them in the Quebec Construction Code. You’ve also learned about bells, horns, bullhorn sirens, speakers, strobes, combined signaling, and firefighter phones.

The next post will focus on the main fire alarm panel.

Crash Course Fire alarm – Detection devices

Avertisseur fumée avec fumée

Introduction

 

Your boss puts you on an fire alarm design job, but your knowledge is limited to your smoke detector at home? Is it true that a pull station contains an inkjet to incriminate you if you pull it for no other reason than to shorten your Friday? These are the questions I will try to help you with in this series of posts on building fire alarm systems.

 

These posts are intended, but not limited to:

 

  • Electrical engineers from consulting engineering firms
  • Subcontractors at fire alarm companies
  • Junior engineers who have no idea what it is (trust me, i’ve been there once!)

 

The fire alarm scope is the responsibility of the electrical engineer. The fire alarm system is not intended to suppress the fire, but rather to detect the fire, facilitate the evacuation of personnel and alert the fire department.

 

I will introduce today the detection devices that are part of fire alarm system.


1- Standards in force

Code de Construction du Québec

 

For current articles of the Quebec Construction Code, please refer to:

 

  • Requirements for manual pull stations (ref 3.2.4.16)
  • Requirements for fire detectors (ref 3.2.4.10)
  • Requirements for smoke detectors (ref 3.2.4.11)

 

Please note that while Quebec has its own Construction Code, you should also learn from the american National Fire Protection Agency or NFPA as an additional reference.


2- Manual pull station

 

Pull station

 

A manual pull station is a device designed to trigger the fire alarm system when operated manually.

A manual pull station is a set of contacts where a switch has the following characteristics:

 

  • A normally open contact, which closes when actuated
  • When triggered, the contact will hold the alarm on until it is rearmed. The rearming is done by the building maintenance team or the firemen with a ordinary key, a screwdriver or an Allen key.

 

The alarm is raised throughout the building or in an area only. Generally, the manual station is close to the emergency exits. Some models are installed in a glass enclosure or with a glass strip. This rod is simply intended to deter those who are tempted to trigger false alarms.

About false alarms, there is no inkjet to spray and incriminate a person for triggering a false alarm! However, with the advent of the Internet of Things, it would be very possible to have a smart manual pull station.

For example, it would have its IP address and would be able to communicate with the fire alarm panel. Once the manual pull station is pulled, the fire alarm panel could identify which station was pulled. Better yet, it would be possible to have a model with digital camera to photograph who pulled the station!

 

Trustworthy Manufacturers: SimplexGrinnell


3- Heat detector

Heat detector

 

A heat detector is used where a rapid increase in temperature is anticipated, sometimes without smoke or when a smoke detector can not be used for environmental reasons.

Industrial processes causing vapors or fumes, sterilizers, laundries and kitchens are examples. A smoke detector could be triggered repeatedly! In order to tell them apart from smoke detectors, it is good practice to identify them as such with lettering.

 

There are two types of heat detectors

 

A) Fixed temperature

The most common type. If the temperature of the central disk reaches the nominal threshold of the detector, the thermostatic element is triggered. The sensor contacts close to transmit an alarm to the control panel.

The thermostatic element can not be reused: when it has triggered, the detector must be replaced. The reason is that the heat causes the melting of the alloy that triggers the alarm, much like a fuse. Separation of the disc from the main body indicates that the detector needs to be replaced. The most common fixed temperature point for electrically connected heat detectors is 58.4 ° C (136.4 ° F).

 

B) Rate of Rise (ROR):

This detector is triggered when the temperature at the sensor increases at a rate of 6.7 to 8.3C per minute, regardless of the starting temperature. It has two thermocouples: the first thermocouple monitors the heat transferred by convection or radiation while the other reacts to the ambient temperature. The detector responds when the temperature of the first sensing element increases relative to the other. The sensor contacts close to transmit an alarm to the control panel. This type of detector is able to rearm itself.


4- Room smoke detector

 

Ionization type smoke detector

 

A room smoke detector is used to detect the presence of visible or invisible smoke produced by combustion and thus automatically raise an alarm. Thus there is the ionization type for invisible smoke and the electric photo type for visible smoke

 

A) Ionization type (invisible smoke)

There is very low radioactivity inside the detector that ionizes the air. The negative ions of the air molecules are attracted to the positive plate, circulating a current inside the chamber.

Since the smoke particles being larger than air molecules, when it enters the chamber, they provide greater resistance to current flow and trigger the alarm.

The reason this type of smoke detector is used is to spot fires known to produce little smoke. For example, the burning of ethanol. At home and on small-scale use, combustion makes it a smokeless fireplace or fire pit. However, in an industrial production of ethanol, a fire could occur in the tanks, be undetectable by the absence of smoke, then quickly become uncontrollable.

 

B) Photoelectric type (visible smoke)

The most common. The photocell detector has a dark chamber constructed so that smoke can penetrate without external light entering.

Inside the darkroom, there is a light source and a receiver element built in such a way that the light beam does not strike the photocell directly.

The visible smoke particles entering the darkroom reflect the light on the photocell, causing a change in conductivity and triggering the alarm.

This type of smoke detector is the most common because it can detect both paper fires and grease fires.

 

For more information between the two types, here is a link I found with the National Fire Protection Agency or NFPA.

https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/By-topic/Smoke-alarms/Ionization-vs-photoelectric


5- Smoke alarms

Smoke alarm

 

Mainly residential, it contains a fire detection circuit that controls a piezo electrical buzzer for local sound signaling. It is not connected to a fire alarm panel and can be powered by battery or 120V AC.

The difference between the smoke alarm shown here and the smoke detector above is that the alarm detects and produces an audible signal when there is smoke. On the other hand, the smoke detector sends an electric signal to an alarm device, for example a bell and it is thas bell that produces an audible signal.


6- Linear smoke detector

Linear smoke detector

 

The reflected linear beam detector consists of a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter emits an invisible infrared light beam that is reflected by a prism installed directly in alignment, with an unobstructed line of sight. The receiver detects and analyzes the infrared light reflected by the prism.

The presence of smoke in the light beam reduces the intensity of the infrared ray received proportionally to the density of the smoke. The detector analyzes the weakening of the beam and triggers the alarm.

These detectors are the ideal solution for protecting large open areas such as atriums, gymnasiums, warehouses, concert halls, sports centers, amphitheatres, etc.

 

Trustworthy manufacturers: Siemens, Honeywell, Bosch


7- Ventilation duct smoke detector

Ventilation duct smoke detector

 

The ventilation duct smoke detector continually samples and analyzes the air circulating in a ventilation duct and triggers an alarm as soon as it detects the presence of smoke.

The main purpose is to prevent smoke from spreading to the entire building. It consists of a sampling tube, an exhaust tube and a photoelectric smoke detector.

Another reason is to avoid contaminating the ducts with dust or combustion particles.

When installing, it is of course necessary to ensure that the holes in the sampling tube are aligned with the direction of the air flow. In addition, avoid installation after an elbow, because after a bend, the smoke tends to accumulate against the wall of the duct, thus defeating the sampling purpose.

 

Trustworthy manufacturers: Honeywell, Bosch


8- Flame detector

Flame detector

 

Flame detectors react directly to the presence of flame. They detect the ultraviolet rays emitted as soon as sparks appear that can ignite any combustible material nearby. Although capable of detecting fires and explosions in 3-4 milliseconds, a 2-3 second delay is often included to minimize false alarms that can be triggered by other UV sources such as lightning, arc welding, radiation and sunlight.

Other models work on infrared rays, on the same principle as thermography cameras. It becomes possible to save these images and send them back to the security station. These videos are very useful for determining the origin of the fire and claiming insurance.

These are visual range devices, so they must be installed at the location providing the most direct visual line with the anticipated fire source.

These detectors are designed to protect dangerous areas where a fire could develop quickly and where ignition is almost instantaneous (eg flammable liquids, natural gas, propane, petrochemicals, etc.)

 

Trustworthy: Honeywell, Emerson, Omicron


Conclusion

 

The fire alarm is a vast subject for which the electrical engineer is responsible. You learned today which articles were in force concerning the detection devices where to look for them in the Quebec Construction Code. You have also learned about manual stations, smoke detectors for rooms and ventilation ducts, heat detectors and flame detectors.

The next article will focus on fire alarm signaling devices.

What is patentable and what is not

Brevet motocyclette

Introduction

Now that you have your idea, that you have done the market research and identified the US market as having the greatest potential, it is time to protect it. But is it really patentable under a utility patent? You could waste a lot of time and money putting a product on the market that can not be protected. Worse, a competing company could simply copy you and release a similar version at a lower price. For all these reasons, today we will explore what is patentable and what is not patentable under the United States Patent Trade Office (USPTO) rules.

 

We will begin by presenting the 4 criterias of patentability, namely:

 

  • Statutory class – In which class can your innovation be categorized?
  • Useful – Is your innovation useful?
  • Novelty – Is there an innovation similar to yours elsewhere in the world?
  • Unobviousness – Would someone specialized in the field of your innovation have thought about it?

 

An innovation must meet these 4 criterias in order to be considered patentable. All of these criterias come from the excellent book Patent it yourself – Your step-by-step guide to filing at the U.S. Patent Office by David Pressman. I recommend it!

 

The opinions expressed herein should not be considered in any way as legal advice. For more information, please consult your patent agent or patent attorney.


1- Statutory class

 

green buckets

The statutory class is a category in which an innovation must fall into to be considered patentable. If your innovation does not fall into one of the 5 statutory classes, your patent application will be rejected. Here are these 5 classes:

 

  • Process or method

 

drilling process

 

A process or method is a way to manipulate real matter and transform said real matter. Thus, shuffling theoretical or abstract ideas is not considered a process per patent law. Be aware that these manipulations can be manual and considered acceptable. For example, a new way of holding an umbrella handle to reduce hand fatigue during strong winds would be an acceptable method.

 

  • Machine

 

gears machine

 

A machine is an equipment used to perform a task. Thus, a machine can be powered by human muscle (a manual can opener) as well as by another source of energy (an electric can opener). The machines are classified into 2 categories:

 

A) Conventional machine

In the general sense, almost any equipment or tool that performs a specific task will be considered a conventional machine.

B) Software machine

An example of a software machine would be a control system of a manufacturing process. Indeed, sensor data and actuator controls help regulate the manufacturing process, so this system helps to manipulate and transform real matter. Thus the machine statutory class requirement would be met.

 

  • Article of manufacture

Manufactured items

 

It may be thought that an article of manufacture is only an industrially produced object, but handmade objects are also acceptable. Any object that exists in its primary form in nature is not considered an article of manufacture. For example, rocks, air or water.

 

  • Composition of matter

Chemical compound

 

These are chemical compounds in the solid, granular, powdery, liquid or gaseous state. As an example, a new and unique bituminous mix would be fall in the composition class. At home, a spaghetti sauce would be fall in the composition class as well.

  • New use of one of the four previous classes

 

delfin bananas

 

Here, the creativity does not come from a new process or machine or article of manufacture or composition of matter, but rather a new and purposeful use of what already exists. For example, an inventor received his patent after using an industrial vacuum to suck prairie dogs out of their holes!


2- Useful

 

happy man tablet vacation

 

To be patentable under a utility patent, an innovation must be useful. Remember that a utility patent is valid for 20 years in the United States, as in Canada.

If the innovation is not useful but of original design, it can still be protected under a design patent, valid for 14 years only.

 

There are several exceptions, including these two:

  • A drug dangerous to health is not patentable.
  • An innovation created for criminal motives is not patentable.

3- Novelty

 

aircraft Wright brothers

 

Of course, your innovation must be new. This is one of the greatest dangers of the innovator, that is, to fall in love with his product. Love makes you blind, as the old saying goes. Thus an innovator who does not perform a prior art search may spend a lot of money and time creating a product that already exists.

The prior art refers to all that has already been invented in the world, protected or not by a patent in force or expired. Thus, a product invented on the other side of the planet or 200 years ago will prevent you from obtaining your patent.

 

Pro Tip: Before going to a patent agent or intellectual property attorney, do a prior art search yourself! To do this, I recommend using Google, Google Image, Amazon, AliExpress and Alibaba to get an idea of what exists around the world.

This research is no silver bullet, but it will quickly give you an excellent idea of the existence of a similar innovation. This search will allow you to find similar products, competing products and the companies that produce them. Moreover, this research will allow you to expand your market research. Best of all, it will become a starting point for the prior art research for the patent agent or patent attorney. Not to mention the money you will save! More about the prior art search in another blog post!

 

Bonus Pro Tip: Again, do your own research with Google Patents and the USPTO database in the US and Canadian Intellectual Property Office or OPIC database.

Start by brainstorming as many words as you can about your innovation. Then enter each of these words and combinations of words into the USPTO and CIPO search engines. Each search will give you a set of related classifications and patents. Finally, you must check whether these classifications and / or patents are related to your innovation or not. It is a long and tedious process, but it will save you a lot of money!

More about using the USPTO and CIPO databases in another blog post! Same thing for searching through Google Patents!


4- Unobviousness

Why the heck didn't i think of that!

 

Hands down the most difficult hurdle to determine the patentability of an innovation.

 

According to USPTO statistics, nearly half of patent applications are rejected because of this criteria.

 

According to the law, innovation must be unobvious to a hypothetical specialist working in the field of your innovation. He is an engineer or designer with average intelligence and creativity, but having the knowledge of everything that has been created in his field of expertise.

 

At the sight of your innovation, he must slap his forehead saying: Why the heck didn’t i think of that!

 

Judgments in court often refer to the unobviousness criteria as a flash of genius and whose innovation produces unusual and surprising results. The idea here is to reward the creativity of men and women who, through their efforts, help the human race move forward.


Conclusion

 

Before starting out, it is better to double check that an innovation is patentable. The patentability of an innovation must answer the following questions:

 

  • Does the innovation fall into one of the 5 statutory classes?
  • Is innovation useful?
  • Is the innovation new compared to the prior art?
  • Is the innovation unobvious to a specialist working in this field?

 

If you answered yes to these 4 questions, let me congratulate you! You have taken another step on the long road to bring your innovation to market. By doing your own research of prior art and patentability, you can confidently present yourself at a patent agent or patent attorney office. They will be strongly impressed by the seriousness of your approach and the strength of your case. Not to mention that the money saved can be reinvested as starting capital!

Electrical systems crash course – Conductors and insulators

Introduction

 

Having some parents pressuring you into engineering? Wondering what is electrical engineering or how the grid actually works? Eyeing that job at Hydro Quebec? Look no further!

In the following weeks i will give you a solid crash course into electrical systems. While it will not turn you into a full fledged professional engineer, it will give you an idea of what lies ahead should you choose this career path. For seasoned professional engineers, you might learn something new as i hope to learn from you as well.

To make this more palletable, i will also add charts and infographics in the weeks to come, as an image is indeed worth a thousand words.

Today i will go over electrical conductors and insulators. By the end of this post you will know:

 

  • Which materials are used as electrical conductors and which are used as electrical insulators.
  • What is electrical resistance and its relation with distance
  • What is an electric arc and why clearance distances are important
  • What is the dielectric strength of electric cables

1- What is an electrical insulator

ceramic insulator

 

Here is a definition taken from Wikipedia:

 

An electrical insulator is a material whose internal electric charges do not flow freely; very little electric current will flow through it under the influence of an electric field.

 

Therefore, an electrical insulating material stops electricity and keeps you safe from getting electrical shocks. Think about the rubber or plastic your laptop power cord is made of.

Here is a few materials ranked in terms of their insulating properties from highest to lowest:

  • Glass or ceramic
  • Plastic – Rubber
  • Wood
  • Air
  • Teflon

 

Main insulating materials used in the electrical industry are air, rubber, plastic, glass & ceramic. The choice for insulating material are based on factors such as:

  • Cost of material
  • Easy to manufacture
  • Easy to install
  • Weight
  • Mechanical resistance
  • Heat resistance

 

As you can see, choosing an insulating material is tricky. To standardize the choices and make it easier for electrical engineers is the National Electrical Manufacturers Association or NEMA. It establishes standards to which the electrical industry must comply to bear its seal. It is also a quality standard of having a NEMA approved product installed. Most engineering firms technical specifications required installed products to be NEMA approved.

Here is link to their description of electrical insulating materials.

 

https://www.nema.org/Products/Pages/Insulating-Materials.aspx

 

Also, if you are looking for manufacturing specifications of insulating materials, i recommend that you look at Hubbell products:

 

https://www.hubbell.com/hubbellpowersystems/en/


2- What is an electrical conductor

electrical cables

 

Again, here is the definition from Wikipedia:

 

In physics and electrical engineering, an electrical conductor is an object or type of material that allows the flow of an electrical current in one or more directions.

 

Some materials are better electrical conductors than others. Here is a short list of conductive materials, from lowest to highest:

  • Brass
  • Aluminium
  • Gold
  • Copper
  • Silver

 

It can be seen that most of the good conductors of electricity are metals. The more conductive a material is, the less heat is generated as electricity pass through it. While power generation and overhead lines as less concerned by this phenomenon because heat is dissipated through the air, conductivity is a major factor in electronics. That is why silver is used in computer chips. Gold is sometimes used in electronics, but rarely due to its price.

Back to electrical utilities, brass, copper and aluminium are the most widely used materials due to their relative abundance on earth and low cost.

Also, if you are looking for manufacturing specifications of electrical conductors and cables, i recommend that you look at Nexans and General Cable:

 

https://www.nexans.ca/eservice/Canada-en_CA/navigate_-15/Nexans_Canada_Worldwide_Leader_of_Electrical_Cables.html

 

https://www.generalcable.com/


3- Resistivity and conductivity

power cable

 

While copper and aluminium are used as electrical conductors because they easily allow the flow of electricity, they do offer some resistance. This resistance may be very low for short distances, but increase greatly as you get further and further away.

Also bear in mind that as the cross sectional area of a conductor increases, the resistance goes down. That is, the larger the conductor is, the easier it is for electricity to flow through it. The drawback is that a larger conductor is more expensive.


4- Resistance and voltage drop in electrical conductors

construction engineer

 

As the length of the conductor increases, the resistance also increases. This is major factor when designing a factory and its electrical equipment. For example, if you are 200 ft from an electrical source, voltage may drop by 5%, maybe even 8%. This will impede the normal operation of your equipment.

That is why electrical engineers conduct what is called a voltage drop study, where the electrical equipment will be checked whether they are too far from an electrical power source and should be relocated. Nowadays, voltage drop calculations are done on power modeling software such as CYME or SKM.

More on voltage drop studies in another blog post. More on CYME and SKM in another blog post!


5- Air and electric arcs

lightning hitting tree

 

Air is a good insulator, but has its limits. If we approach an uninsulated high voltage conductor, like an overhead transmission line, the electricity wants to leave the live conductor and find a path back to its source. In Quebec, it would probably be the hydroelectric dam that produces this electricity.

If we get close enough, the air will break down and turn from an insulator into a conductor. An electric arc will form through the air, like lightning.

This is why during thunderstorms, one should never take refuge beneath the highest tree, as lightning will seek its quickest path to the ground through that tree. Similarly during a thunderstorm, one should never walk in an open field, as lightning will seek its quickest path to the ground through you!


6- Arcing distance

lightning in city

 

The higher the voltage applied to the conductor, the farther the electricity will jump through the air. The distance that the electricity can jump is called the arcing distance.

The arcing distances depends on the weather. When it is raining or humid, the electricity can use the moisture to break down the air more easily.

The electrical system operators know the worst case arcing distances and use this information to set safe minimum distances from live equipments, which increase as the system voltage increases.


7- Arcing distance and electrical clearances

electrical linemen

 

The electric clearance is a safety distance that further protects linemen, operators and electricians when working near live conductors.

Clearance distances are much greater than arc distance to protect electricians and take into consideration the worst case scenario with rain.

This distance takes into account risks of missteps, for example tripping over and falling towards the live conductors. If properly implemented, an electrician will still be safe from an electric arc.

The best practice is to deenergize conductors and equipments while an electrician is working close by. Because this is not always possible or because the job is to diagnose faulty electrical equipments, an electrician may have to work close to live conductors.


8- Arc flash dangers

Arc flash level 4 PPE

 

The dangers of an electric arc flash are not only in terms of electricity passing through the human body, but also to surrounding equipments. An operator exposed to or close to an arc may be thrown back by the explosive force, turned deaf by the noise, blind by the flash of light, experience 2nd and 3rd degree burns. He or she may even suffer from internal damage due to concussive forces from the explosion.

On this picture, the electrician is protected by a Level 4 Personal Protective Equipment. This is the highest level of protection there is. More on the damages from electric arc flash in another post!

The danger of the electric arc flash is well known and now mandatory per Canadian Standard CSA Z462 norm, while in the United States, it is the NFPA70E norm.

More on the CSA Z462 in another blog post! More on the NFPA70E in yet another post!


9 – Dielectrical strength

electrical treeing

 

The ability of an insulator to stop an electric arc passing through it depends on the material dielectric strength and material thickness. It is the ability to withstand high current and voltage. It is of great importance to the condition of any live electrical cable.

As an electrical cable ages, its dielectrical strength diminishes, making it more likely to experience an arc. At the microscopic level, we can start seeing physical damage through the insulation layer of a cable.

Since this damage looks like little trees, this phenomenon got the name of electrical treeing. As the cable ages, these trees grow. Eventually, they will be long enough that electricity will flow from the copper core, through the trees, through the insulation and out of the cable.

At that point, an electric fault has occurred and the cable must be deenergized and removed from service. The cable insulation is said to have failed. Electrical treeing is especially problematic for cables in humid underground applications, because of the moisture that may appear inside the cables. More on how electrical treeing is mitigated in another post!


10- Insulator tracking

glass insulator

 

If we have a potential voltage difference across an insulator, it will limit the current flowing through it due to its high resistivity. As the voltage increases, the electricity can’t pass through it, so it will try and go round the outside of the insulator. This is called insulator tracking.

This tends to be an issue when the system voltage gets to a high level (+36kV), when the insulator is located outside and subjected to rain and pollution that sticks to the outside of the insulator, creating a lower resistance path for the electricity.

One way to reduce the effect of tracking is to increase the distance around the outside of the insulator. By increasing the linear distance that the electricity needs to flow from one side to the next, we make it more difficult for tracking to occur. That is why high voltage insulators have that shape. If we want to use the insulator for a higher voltage, we can simply stack the insulators in series.


Conclusion

 

With this blog post, you have learned conductive and insulating materials used in power cables and that resistance increases as distance increases. You have also learned what are electric arcs and why power cables eventually fail because of the electrical treeing phenomenon.

Next post will be about circuit breakers, why and how we use them. Stay tuned!

Electrical systems crash course – Introduction

cours intensif systèmes électriques

Introduction

 

Having some parents pressuring you into engineering? Wondering what is electrical engineering or how the grid actually works? Eyeing that job at Hydro Quebec? Look no further!

In the following weeks i will give you a solid crash course into electrical systems. From conductors to transformers, from network design to grounding, i will take you through all these different aspects of the profession. While it will not turn you into a full fledged professional engineer, it will give you an idea of what lies ahead should you choose this career path. For seasoned professional engineers, you might learn something new as i hope to learn from you as well.

This blog post is an overview of the material i will cover in the next weeks. To make this more palletable, i will also add charts and infographics in the weeks to come, as an image is indeed worth a thousand words.

Now that the Charbonneau Commission is behind us, it is time to rebuild our profession!


1- Conductors & Insulators

high voltage insulator

 

  • What is an electrical insulating material
  • What is an electrical conductive material
  • Resistivity and conductivity
  • Resistance and voltage drop in electrical conductors
  • Air and electric arcs
  • Arcing distance
  • Arcing distance and electrical clearances
  • Arc flash dangers
  • Dielectrical strength
  • Insulator tracking

2- Circuit breakers

circuit breaker

 

  • Electrical contacts and arcs
  • Definition of a circuit breaker
  • Circuit breakers vs fuses
  • Types of circuit breakers
  • Common insulating material inside circuit breaker
  • Air Circuit Breaker types
  • Current that opens circuit breakers
  • Single line diagram
  • Electrical fault discrimination
  • Comments about fault discrimination

3- Grounding

grounding mat

 

  • Purpose of grounding system
  • Grounded vs ungrounded systems
  • Touch potential
  • Step potential
  • How to mitigate touch and step potentials
  • Copper ground rod
  • Substation grounding system
  • Transmission grounding substation

4- Network design

plans and specifications

 

  • Typical electric network
  • Radial circuit
  • Ring circuit
  • Ring main unit configuration
  • Ring main unit operation in distribution systems
  • Ring configuration for transmission systems

5- Low voltage systems

low voltage systems

 

  • Transport and distribution voltage levels
  • Industrial and domestic voltage levels
  • Industrial network
  • Domestic network

6- Electrical cables

electrical cables

 

  • Distribution cables
  • Transmission cables
  • Design and installation
  • Single core vs multicore
  • Electrical treeing

7- Overhead lines

overhead lines

 

  • Purpose of transport lines
  • Transport vs distribution
  • Clearance levels
  • Tower Design
  • Tower insulators
  • Types of transmission towers
  • Conductor strands and binding

8- Transformers

oil and forced air transformer

 

  • Purposes of transformer
  • Single phase vs three phases
  • Single phase transformer design and operation
  • Characteristics of a single phase transformer
  • Power rating of a transformer
  • Current transformer or CT
  • Three phases transformer design and operation
  • Characteristics of three phases transformer
  • Cooling of transformers
  • Tap changing

Conclusion

 

As you have seen through this post, the professional electrical engineer body of knowledge is vast. From power generation to overhead transmission lines all the way down to the power outlet, we have a tendency of taking electric power for granted. Next post will be on electrical conductors and insulators.

These posts also seek to rebuild the shattered image of the professional engineer in Quebec, following the Charbonneau Commission. Although tainted by a few rotten apples and some politicians, the perception of corruption still lingers about the title of professional engineer. Now that it is behind us, it is time to rebuild and make sure it never happens again.

Deloitte Summaries – The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation – Part 3 of 3

Internet des Objets

Introduction

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been all the rage in the development of new products in the consumer market and how people use them. But what about IoT applications for manufacturing, or better yet power utilities?

This post is the first in a series of summaries on Deloitte studies. Deloitte is a UK incorporated multinational professional services network. Mostly known for its tax, financial and audit consulting, it also provides reports on technological trends, in this case energy and the Internet of Things. This is a summary of the article The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation. You can download it for free at:

 

https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/internet-of-things/iot-in-electric-power-industry.html

 

As an electrical engineer or anyone with an interest in power utilities, you will be amazed at how IoT allows engineers to know the exact state of every equipment on the line, precisely locate faults and even start mapping out predictive power consumption models that are based on data, not educated guesses.

In the last two posts, i have introduced the smart grid, its benefits and how the Internet of Things will make it happen. Today, i will present challenges brought by cryptocurrency mining, data centers and potential cyber attacks on the grid.

 

This is the final push!


Cryptocurrency mining and data centers.

Bitcoin

 

The arrival of cryptocurrencies in our lives will add electrical loads that were never anticipated by any grid operator. Once people realize that money can be made by letting your computer run complex algorithms at night, once your regular joe realizes that this can be a stream of passive income and that this cryptocurrency can appreciate in value like stocks, this will be the goldrush of our time, similar to those in California or the Klondike or the tar sands in Alberta.

Same thing as for data centers, like the one Amazon plans to build near Varennes. Now that’s a great way to use all that La Romaine project hydro power!

 

More on cryptocurrency mining in another blog post. More on data centers in yet another blog post!


Wind power

Wind turbine

 

Quebec, with its cooler climate and windy conditions, will be the perfect place for wind farms dedicated to cryptocurrency mining. Once connected to the grid, they will also be able to provide extra power if need be. There will be a great need for precise weather forecasts, energy modeling and regional heavy industry power needs. And this is where the Internet of Things will come in.

For example, weather forecast predict reliable winds for the next 36 hours over the St-Laurence gulf area. Wind farms would then calculate the amount of MW of power that will be generated. Knowing this, local heavy industries could plan for power consumption processes to be performed mostly during this timeframe (one can only wish for such close coordination!) and bid on this block of power.


Cybersecurity and the power grid

cyberattack anonymous

 

As we have now learned from the Internet of people, anything that is connected can be hacked. While ransomeware and identity theft may cost hundreds of dollars to individuals, thousands to businesses, a cyberattack on a smart grid or a connected power plant has a far greater cost , both in terms of money as in lives.

It has been 8 years since the Stuxnet virus was discovered by Iranian authorities at the Natanz uranium enrichment facilities. This virus attacked the Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) system of centrifuges at the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) level, making them spin out of control.

No saber rattling, no drone strikes, no CNN Breaking News, no missile strikes, no protests, no boots on the ground. Yet the damage was extensive and it is believe it has delayed the Iran nuclear program for years and prompted the Iran government to play catch up. Expect such operations to happen again abroad, but also here on Canadian soil.


Cybersecurity and the power grid

nuclear power plant

 

In June 2017, it was reported that the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation, which runs a nuclear power plant near Burlington, Kansas, was hacked into. It is unclear whether the hacking was intended to test the cybersecurity of the plant, gather information or cause harm but it is enough to know that it happened and will happen again.

The nightmare scenario is of course a cyberattack that would block uranium rods in the reactor, causing a reactor meltdown. Such an attack reminds us that we are never too far from Tchernobyl or Three Miles Island disasters. This is why the Internet of Things must be developed hand in hand with cyber security at all levels.

This is also why i believe it is better to leave nuclear reactor control systems completely isolated from the Internet of Things. From 9/11 to Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) in Afghanistan, terrorists have shown they too can be brilliantly creative and dedicated. So must we rise up and meet this challenge, as we have always done.


Conclusion

 

Historically, the power generation industry has not evolved at the same pace as communication or electronics. As we all know now, the internet of people has changed us more than we ever imagined. There are 7 billions humans on Earth. Now ask yourself how many physical objects there are on this planet and you’ll get an idea of how impactful the Internet of Things will be.

Making the grid more resilient, data collecting of power customers and mapping out their behavior then selling power blocks tailored to their needs, all this seems like Facebook algorithms! Yet here we are talking about wind farms, steel mills, data centers and cryptocurrency mines, all with their own power consumption or production profile.

The threat of cyber attacks will be as present as they are on the Internet of people. People acknowledge how much they can’t live without the Internet of people, so will it be that power utilities and large power consumers won’t be able to live without the Internet of Things

Deloitte Summaries – The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation – Part 2 of 3

Internet des Objets, IoT

Introduction

The Internet of Things or IoT has been all the rage in the development of new products in the consumer market and how people use them. But what about IoT applications for manufacturing, or better yet power utilities?

This post is the first in a series of summaries on Deloitte studies. Deloitte is a UK incorporated multinational professional services network. Mostly known for its tax, financial and audit consulting, it also provides reports on technological trends, in this case energy and the Internet of Things. This is a summary of the article The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation. Key elements are in gray, while my comments are in black. You can download it for free at:

 

https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/internet-of-things/iot-in-electric-power-industry.html

 

As an electrical engineer or anyone with an interest in power utilities, you will be amazed at how IoT allows engineers to know the exact state of every equipment on the line, precisely locate faults and even start mapping out predictive power consumption models that are based on data, not educated guesses.

Last time, we discovered what is the Internet of Things and how it can transform a traditional power grid into a smart one. Today, i will take you through the 3 phases as recommended by Deloitte on how this can be achieved.

 

Let’s get started!


Summary of The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation

Phase 1: Resilience

solar and wind

 

The initial phase of grid modernization is resilience. Resilience is about grid reliability and durability, a goal made more difficult by the growing trend toward decentralized energy resources.

Because the current system generally has no ability to store electricity, grid operators are constantly balancing the amount of centrally generated electricity injected into the system with demand.

The introduction of large numbers of decentralized, uncontrolled, and unmonitored generators could threaten this balance, degrade power quality, or even potentially endanger the grid and the public.

 

This tendency to turn towards Distributed Energy Resources or DER is worldwide. Here’s what is going on in California, Germany and Denmark.


Distribued Energy Resources in California

California

 

The state of California is pushing beyond its original renewable energy portfolio target of 30 percent in 2020 to 50 percent by 2030.12 A core component of this is the addition of 12,000 MW of power from DERs by 2020.

 

Germany has been a shining example of wind power generation and integration.


Distribued Energy Resources in Germany

Germany

Germany has crossed a symbolic milestone in its energy transition by briefly covering around 100 percent of electricity use with renewables for the first time ever on 1 January 2018.

Sören Amelang, Clean Energy Wire

 

Here is the rest of the article:

https://www.cleanenergywire.org/news/renewables-cover-about-100-german-power-use-first-time-ever

 

Same thing for Denmark


Distribued Energy Resources in Denmark

Denmark

 

Wind turbines delivered power equivalent to 43.6 percent of Denmark’s electricity consumption in 2017.

Jesper Berggreen, Clean Technica

 

For those interested, here is the complete article:

https://cleantechnica.com/2018/01/06/44-wind-denmark-smashed-already-huge-wind-energy-records-2017/


The smart inverter

smart inverter

 

A device critical to integrating Distributed Energy Resources or DERs on this scale with the grid is the power inverter, which transforms electricity from direct current to alternating current so that it can be injected into the grid for consumption. However, these products lack the external control functions and communications standards necessary to facilitate mass integration into the grid.

However, solutions to this challenge may be emerging. Adding IoT technology to an inverter can enable intelligent automated local actions and standards-based monitoring and control of the device, making it a “smart inverter.”

 

Attach an Arduino ESP8266 micro controller and boom, you start measuring and transmitting via the cloud to a database solar illumination, voltage, current and power factor of all solar equipment on the grid. Here is a Youtube video that shows it is possible.

 

 

More on the Arduino ESP8266 and the Internet of Things in another blog!


Phase 2: Enablement

Data analytics

 

The second phase is enablement, in which the aggregation and analysis of collected data enable augmented intelligence and new insights into grid operations and customer interactions.

 

Say you want to become CEO on the Fortune 500 list, but don’t know where to start. An augmented intelligence app would scan Jobboom and LinkedIn resumes of thousands of CEO across different sectors and industries, establish correlations between such factors as race, gender, school, field of study, contacts, etc. Then given your particular situation, it would provide a probabilistic route to your goal.

That is, who should you meet to advance, what field should you graduate in, what city should you move to, etc. And if impossible, it will still recommend the next best thing, say becoming VP or Director. No more coin tossing and hoping for the best!

 

Distribution system operators need control points that eliminate the need for human interaction and can handle the increasing number of IoT-enabled devices and applications within the grid.

These control points must manage customer- and third-party-owned assets as well as utility assets. The rapid rise of grid complexity and the accompanying operational systems is quickly outpacing the grid operator’s ability to quickly and effectively assess a situation, create a plan of action, and execute that plan.


Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS)

Advanced Distribution Management Systems

 

Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS) are an IoT technology that solution providers are developing to achieve this level of situational awareness.

An ADMS is an integrated software application that takes advantage of new and existing applications to create a unified monitoring and control system.

This control system is required to maintain reliability, leverage all manner of embedded systems and distributed resources, and safeguard property and people from the variability inherent in a modern grid.

Similar to a Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition system (SCADA) in factories, the ADMS allows for reduction the duration of outages and improve the speed and accuracy of outage predictions. With the Intenet of Things, it will allow for improve service reliability by tracking all customers affected by an outage, determining electrical configurations of every device on every feeder, and compiling details about each restoration process.

 

More on Advanced Distribution Management System and IoT in another post!


Phase 3: Competition/ optimization

Stock market

 

Using the data and insights generated in the enablement phase, grid stakeholders are able to make informed business decisions.

Interoperability across the meter from the utility to the customer enables new optimization capabilities and a more efficient use of resources.

An intelligent platform such as an ADMS, composed of various IoT technologies and solutions, can provide the necessary grid intelligence to facilitate stakeholder perspective-driven optimization decisions.

This intelligence enables decisions about what assets are needed and where. For the utility, it means a feeder-level profitability assessment tool is needed to evaluate which investments make sense and which are better suited for the market to satisfy.

Who should we sell power to? Who should we buy it from? At what rate? Should we acquired generation assets or let the private sector do it? These will be questions to which the smart grid will have an answer based on data, not educated guesses.


Beginning the journey

recrutement

 

While many observers have commented on aging workforce issues in the electric utility industry, the IoT poses the additional challenge of attracting, developing, and retaining the next-generation workforce, a workforce that is comfortable with the pace, magnitude, and risk of IoT-driven changes.

The rising number of systems involved in the grid means troubleshooting faults will involve marshaling multidisciplinary teams composed of everyone, from data scientists to linemen.

Many utilities see this as a recruiting opportunity to reignite career interest in the industry. It is a chance to offer those entering the workforce opportunities to learn cutting-edge skills and be a part of an industry that is modernizing rapidly.

In many cases, the skills needed to support the new and sophisticated back-office and operational systems are in extremely high demand in other industries.

 

I am myself an electrical engineer with a power generation background during my university years and electronic background during my college years. My interest in the Internet of Things and Augmented Intelligence have shown me that the smart grid is now emerging in different parts of the world, while being only a concept ten years ago.

It will allow for the efficient use of electricity throughout the grid, integration of intermittent power, but also new power consumption profiles cryptocurrency mining, electrical car recharging and data centers voracious use of electricity.

 

The utility’s barriers to the adoption of these new IoT tools can be high, but the risk and cost of not pursuing them is greater.


Conclusion

 

You have discovered the three phases as recommended by Deloitte to transform the traditional power grid into a smart one through the Internet of Things.

In the resilience phase, the safe integration of intermittent source to the grid is made. Then, in the enablement phase, measurement of all connected devices and the analysis of all data will allow new and better power consumption profiling of large and small clients. Finally, the purchase/optimization phase truly allows for the best use of analytics in planification and asset management.

Next post will be a bonus! My two cents on the challenges brought by cryptocurrency mining, data centers and potential cyberattacks on the grid. Stay tuned!

Deloitte Summaries – The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation – Part 1 of 3

Internet des Objets

Introduction

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been all the rage in the development of new products in the consumer market and how people use them. But what about IoT applications for manufacturing, or better yet power utilities?

This post is the first in a series of summaries on Deloitte studies. Deloitte is a UK incorporated multinational professional services network. Mostly known for its tax, financial and audit consulting, it also provides reports on technological trends, in this case energy and the Internet of Things. This is a summary of the article The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation. Key elements of the article are in gray, while my comments are in black. You can download it for free at:

 

https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/internet-of-things/iot-in-electric-power-industry.html

 

As an electrical engineer or anyone with an interest in power utilities, you will be amazed at how IoT allows engineers to know the exact state of every equipment on the grid, precisely locate faults and even start mapping out predictive power consumption models that are based on data, not educated guesses.

I will first go over what is the Internet of Things and a few of its applications. Then, i will bring out key elements of this article and chip a few comments in. Finally, since IoT equipments can be hacked, i will discuss the issue of cyber security when it comes to energy utilities.

By the end of this post, i hope that you will be as excited as i am at the prospects and challenges the Internet of Things will bring us.

 

Let’s dive in!


What is the Internet of Things

Internet of Things

According to Wikipedia

 

The Internet of Things is the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which enables these objects to connect and exchange data.

 

The Apple watch, Amazon Alexa and Google Home are but a few example of objects that are connected to the Internet of Things. And similar to the internet of persons, these objects talk to one another. What might these conversations look like?  Here’s a few examples:

 

What is the temperature of the room?

What time is it and what is the luminosity in the baby bedroom?

 

To which the other device may answer:

The temperature is currently 19° C

Time is 5h32AM and the lighting in the baby’s room is currently 926 lux.

 

And logic statements may also be programmed onto these devices

If the temperature is below 25° C, turn on the heating unit.

If the time is before 7h00AM and the lighting is above 300 lux, close the shades.

 

Finally actions can be taken based on whether those logical statements are true or false.

The heating unit is now ON

The shades are now Closed

 

This is done through the internet as every connected device has an IP address. Therefore, you could control the lighting in the baby’s room from the office. The Internet of Things or IoT offers tremendous potential in turning any physical object into a smart device. And the applications are limitless. More on which sectors will benefit the most from IoT in another post!


Summary of The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation

1- Throwback

electrical power measurement

 

Historically, utilities have been able to invest heavily in generation and delivery infrastructure because steady growth in demand maintained affordable prices for customers and yielded reasonable returns.

Yet, tighter emission regulations, greater reliability expectations, and the aging transmission and distribution system require more than maintenance; they need expensive upgrades and replacements.

 

That is why many public utilities now turn to private capital for power generation. The Boralex wind farms are an example. This is the opening of a monopolistic market by having private companies build and manage power generating assets. The intention is to induce competition and keep power generation costs low. The opening of the telecommunications market in the 90s and early 2000 is an example of such attempt.

 

The most straightforward response— raising rates—is not always attractive, as both utilities and their regulators are charged with keeping rates affordable, and higher rates increase the competitiveness of alternatives to utility-provided power.

 

Hydro Quebec business model is a great example of this: provide electricity to citizens of Quebec at a low price through the “bloc patrimonial” rate and generate revenues by selling hydro power to business clients and other utilities through interconnexion with other grids in North America.


2- IoT and the Smart Grid

Smart Grid

 

IoT can improve the efficiency and performance of the power grid in three phases: first, by gathering data from sensors to improve the resilience of the grid; then through enablement, where utilities use that data to actively manage resources; and finally, optimization, where all stakeholders are able to make informed decisions about power usage and generation.

 

For example, through IoT measurement of the power consumption of heavy industrial clients such as mines and foundries, it will be possible to build predictive consumer models. These models will not only take into account the power consumption, but also the cost of ore and the selling price of metal bars. Power brokers will be able to buy and sell blocks of power with a greater degree of confidence, rather than going with educated guesses.

 

The grid is evolving from a oneway system where power flows from centralized generation stations to consumers, to a platform that can detect, accept, and control decentralized consumption and production assets so that power and information can flow as needed in multiple directions. This common industry vision is known as the “intelligent grid.”

 

The integration of wind and solar power is a great example of decentralized production. We are seeing now intermittent power generation coexist on the grid with traditional thermic power plants and hydro power generation. The output of the former being fluctuating, while the output of the latter being predictive.

That is, an electricity producer knows how much water he has in his dams and can predict how much electricity he can produce, while wind and solar are subject to the mood swings of the weather. The interconnexion with New England grids and Ontario grids and the selling of power is another example of this multi directional reality.

 

Our view is that the electric grid should modernize in three phases, which we refer to as the resilience, enablement, and competition/ optimization phases.

 

This will be the subject of my next post on IoT and power generation.


Conclusion

 

Through this introduction, you have discovered what is the Intenet of Things, what benefits can it bring to the power grid and how it will transform a traditional grid into a smart one. Next post, i will present the 3 phases Deloitte recommends to make such a transformation, namely the resilience, enablement and competition/optimization phases.