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SBIR Success Story: Precision Lightwave Instruments (PLI)

23616 N. 19th Avenue, Ste 16
Phoenix, AZ 85085

Contact: Dr. James Blake
Phone: 602-331-8000
E-mail: jim.blake@areva-td.com

Project Title:  Precision Optical Current Sensor

NIST Award(s):  SB1341-03-C-0021

Technology Developed: We have developed highly accurate fiber optic current sensing technology for the high voltage electric grid. These optical current transformers are extraordinarily safe and light weight, as well as having DC to 20 kHz bandwidth with exceptional dynamic range and economical cost.

Key Words: Smart Grid, Electric power , Power Transmission, Current measurement, fiber optics, interferometry, digital substation

Uses of Technology/Products/Service: This technology is used to measure currents on the high voltage electrical power grid. Such measurements are important for measuring, monitoring, and protecting the grid. This technology provides a safe and clean alternative to the use of conventional oil or SF6 filled transformers. It provides a highly accurate and fast digital output allowing for improved operation of the grid. It has been widely used in connecting wind farms to the grid, owing to the wide variability of the power flows at these connection points. The research done under the NIST SBIR was instrumental in improving the accuracy of the technology to the level necessary to meet the commercial demands.

Benefit to Company: The technology developed under the NIST SBIR was acquired by Areva T&D Inc. in January 2009. Areva is number one in the world in power grid instrument transformer market share. This technology underlies the launch of a new product line within Areva's portfolio: Digital Instrument Transformers. Areva expects, along with the other major players in the electric power industry, that digital instrument transformers (of varying designs) will grow to become the dominant technology for electric grid applications during the next two decades.  

Impact on Company Growth: Strategic

How Product Was Commercialized: The optical digital instrument transformer product has been developed by a group of between 15 and 20 people over a period of about 10 years in Phoenix, AZ. At the time of the Areva acquisition in January 2009, about 450 units had been sold into utilities and industrial plants in 19 different countries. Areva is now aggressively ramping up and promoting products based on this technology. 

Other Comments Related to Company's Success Story: Funding from NIST provided a key boost to the development of this technology. Specifically, NIST's emphasis on accuracy and calibration needs provided the impetus for driving the technology to achieve performance levels that other forces did not at that time. In hindsight, it is clear that the eventual success of the technology depended very much on this phase of pushing the performance limits.

Estimated Future Annual R&D and/or Sales from this Project: $20M