KG Technologies makes on-off switch for energy management
COTATI -- Ten-employee KG Technologies Inc. is at the heart of the global movement to replace 1.8 billion electric meters in the next few decades with "smart meters" that allow for remote energy management.
KG is one of a few companies in the world that make a remote on-off switch, also called a service relay switch, that fits into an electric meter, according to Netherlands-based energy consulting firm KEMA.
[caption id="attachment_22528" align="alignright" width="360" caption="KG Technologies principals Thomas (left) and Philipp Gruner"][/caption]
Such service relay switches on homes or commercial buildings are considered key to advanced metering infrastructure, or a "smart grid."
Smart meters provide continual usage information so utilities can adjust resources, particularly from variable-output renewable sources, and consumers can better know how much their bills will be via monitoring systems such as Google's PowerMeter software and the TED device.
However, a remotely controlled switch in the meter allows a utility to save labor costs on disconnecting customers for nonpayment or at their request when they move or the property is vacant, such as bank-owned properties or college housing, and on reconnecting service.
Another feature of remote meter relays is "load limiting," in which a utility can reduce current going to specific meters by remotely tripping one or more switches in a meter. However, rules for "auxiliary load control" are varied. For example, PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno said the utility doesn't plan to seek approval for such a feature.
"Smart meters are the foundation for the future smart grid," Mr. Moreno said. The utility is about halfway through installing 5 million electric and 4 million gas smart meters, which are purchased from General Electric and Landis+Gyr.
"The smart grid is just the stepping stone to the smart home and then the smart car," said Philipp Gruner, KG president and engineering director. "If all had electric cars and plugged them into the grid, it would crash."
KG specializes in latching relays, which are switches that use electromagnets to open or close a circuit then have a latching system to keep the circuit that way after current stops flowing to the magnet.
Found in thousands of products, common uses can be automobile turn signals, sensor-controlled switches that turn on streetlights after dark and automatic shutoff switches for big rig cab power to leave enough juice to start the engine in the morning.
However, the high power flowing through electric meters requires specialized and highly regulated design, because these service relays must reliably take the punishment of making or breaking the connection to the grid potentially after many years of nonuse and in extraordinary events such as lightning strikes, according to Thomas Gruner, KG chief executive officer.
That's why KEMA in a 2007 report on remote-disconnect switches for smart meters noted only four major world manufacturers – KG, Gruner AG, Dialight BLP and AMPY Metering, which is now part of Landis+Gyr. These days, KG's major competitor is the family's former company.
The Gruners' late grandfather, Wolfgang, started Germany-based Gruner AG five decades ago and became a world leader in manufacturing such components, with factories in several countries. The company was later sold.