The Story of Plectron®
Plectron was born during a chat with a few friends, seeking a solution to the icing problem in the power transmission lines. A friend of ours working at the electricity distribution company told us about the problems with the distribution lines. Just that week, he described, 20 poles were down due to the ice load problem, and dozens of people have been repairing them in a blizzard for days. During such times, he said, there were frequent injuries and even fatal accidents. A problem leading to fatalities even in the 21st century, has intrigued us. The more we looked into the business, the more we realized we were facing a more dire problem than we thought. It wasn’t just a problem that affected people working on the lines., a power outage caused thousands of people to be left without energy and water. In the U.S. alone, every year 1,000 people die due to problems with power transmission lines (Trotter, 2005). As a matter of fact, we started our search for a solution that would reduce the loss of life and also prevent all sorts of problems caused by icing of power lines.
First of all, we’ve noticed that: All solutions in the world are about cleaning the line once ice is formed. However, preventing it requires much less energy. Also, cleaning the line from ice after the fact is not the solution because cleaning hours are daytime, whereas icing and downing occur mostly at night.
The least costly and environmentally clean way to prevent ice is to vibrate that line. As a Turkish proverb says, “the working iron shines.” Trembling wire doesn’t freeze either. As such, vibration is the most logical solution.
However, during our R&D process, we ran into another problem: Where were we going to get the energy to vibrate the line?
The battery was not a sustainable solution because it needed to be recharged constantly. Even if we found a constantly charging solution such as the sun or etc., then we faced the problem of battery lifetime because as battery keeps discharging and recharging, 70% of its lifetime is spent in the first year. Therefore, we decided to use a “supercapacitor” which can work with constant discharging and recharging. This is a solution that can keep its lifetime and power even regardless of the times it discharges and recharges.
Coming to the charging problem, If we were to use the sun to charge the supercapacitor, in the long run, when the sun-battery got covered with dust or dirt, it could not have functioned. Furthermore, in places where there is half an hour of sun a day, our device would not be able to charge itself. That is why that alternative was eliminated. Secondly, we thought of charging with piezoelectric because the line is in constant motion due to wind. That motion could have been enough to charge the device however, we realized the piezoelectric materials would be easily eroded due to the magnetic field created around the lines where 35.000 V was passing. That alternative got eliminated as well. Finally, we reminisced “the right-hand method” we had learned in high school. The power that was running through the line was generating a magnetic field around the line. We could use this magnetic field to charge our supercapacitor!
Next, we had to detect the forming of ice. Previously, the power distribution companies had used a camera to detect if ice formed or not. This idea seemed ridiculous to us because one can know if ice is forming without seeing it. We found a much cheaper and sustainable solution: Passively measuring temperature and humidity to detect icing! The result is a scientific fact: ice forms above 60% humidity and below 5 degrees celcius.
The Plectron emerged as a combination of all these solutions. Of course, we also found solutions to many problems such as which motors to use, which materials to charge in which geometric way, which way the vibration to happen and at which frequency, but each was resolved one by one..
From now on, we want to add new ones to our existing sensors which will allow us to collect significant amount of data on distribution lines. With this data, power lines can be monitored much more intelligently. We can instantly transfer that data to the DSO center with a communication kit (which is now a work in progress). To sum up, we can offer a much cheaper and better-quality alternative to systems called “smart grids”.
Trotter, J. 2005. Safety programs that work. Presentation at the American Public Power Association National Conference, Anaheim, Calif., June 18–22.