Israeli know-how is powering computer networks, security systems, cellphones and computers, to name but a few items. And now, that same know-how may soon be helping to protect the “juice” that makes those items work.
An Israeli start-up called GridOn is marketing a technology developed at Bar-Ilan University to regulate electrical networks, preventing shorts and other problems – thus stabilizing the electrical grid and protecting our refrigerators, washing machines, TV sets, computers and any other item that gets plugged into the wall.
And the technology is so good that it recently won $100,000 in a General Electric innovation contest, one of only five of hundreds of entries worldwide to attain that recognition.
“Everyone knows that an electrical short means big trouble,” says Dr. Shuki Wolfus of Bar-Ilan University’s Physics Department, who along with his colleagues Dr.
Alex Friedman and Prof. Yosef Yeshurun developed the technology, in cooperation with a company called Ricor, in Ein Harod.
“When you have a hose that leaks water, you get a concentration of water at the hole and a lowering of pressure further down,” he says. “The same is true for electricity; a short is like a ‘hole’ in the wire, but in this case, it is a dangerous hole that conducts power – excess power – into your appliances, ruining them.”
When you get a short at home, your breaker system, which regulates the
flow of power, is supposed to kick in and stop the power from flowing
and damaging appliances.
But what works on a small scale at home gets more and more difficult on
bigger systems. And on big electrical grids, regulating electricity to
prevent shorts is extremely difficult, if not impossible, and extremely
expensive when it is possible.
Such “shorts” on a major electrical system could be responsible for all
sorts of mischief – like the cascading blackout that affected some 50
million people on the US east coast and parts of Canada. In that
blackout, by the way, the power outage, investigators found, was caused
by an electricity wire coming into contact with “untrimmed trees” –
showcasing just how easy it can be for large grids to fail and how much
they need regulation to prevent overloading.
And that is exactly what the technology developed by Wolfus and his colleagues does.
“Our device – a small, compact, electrical core [which is marketed by
GridOn under the name “The Keeper”] – varies the flow of electricity if a
change in current strength is detected,” Wolfus says. “When the current
is too strong, our device, which is based on magnet technology, is able
to slow the flow of power. The result is that breakers and other
equipment on the line do not get overwhelmed and are far less likely to
short out, as they often do because they are often not rated for the
excess current they have to deal with.”
In fact, he says, the technology could be implemented to ensure that the
electricity flow does not outstrip the capabilities of the grid’s
equipment, thereby ensuring that it doesn’t suffer “burnout,” literally.
This system, Wolfus says, solves a number of problems inherent in the
solutions widely used today to avoid excess power flows and the effects
“Today, when there is excess flow due to a short, power companies often
direct some of the power into other lines,” he says. “But this is
problematic, because it violates the stability of the flow, which could
cause problems on grid or even home equipment.
“Our solution is flexible. When our core is installed on a line, it
automatically regulates the flow at its correct power, ensuring that the
flow remains stable. It limits the current for as long as required to
clear the fault, and it recovers immediately thereafter.”
The Keeper itself, GridOn says, is very compact. It comprises
three-phase AC coils wound around a single, fully saturated iron core.
Not only does it suppress fault currents on grids, it also allows for
current regulation and reactive power balancing.
The Keeper, virtually transparent to the grid during normal operation,
instantaneously turns itself into a very highimpedance device upon a
“It’s compactness, and the fact that it can use standard copper coil and
does not require superconducter coil, makes it attractive to GE and
many utility companies,” Wolfus says.
GridOn has been talking to a number of companies, he says, and is set to
install some Keepers in a major European electricity network.
The technology was mostly developed by Wolfus’s team and then was
transferred to Bar-Ilan’s research and development company (headed by
Gabi Keinan), which licensed it to GridOn.
“We believe that this solution is better and cheaper than any of the
others on the market,” Wolfus says. “Sooner or later, all electrical
grids are going to realize that they need a logical solution to the
problem of regulating electrical current on large grids, and we believe
they are going to prefer our solution.”