“Touching” the smart grid infrastructure space with capacitive sensing technology


Updated September 9, 2020

Ever thought about capacitive touch playing an important aspect within high voltage and high wattage applications in the smart grid space?

While typical human machine interface systems (HMI) are primarily used in personal electronics and appliance markets, there are genuine requirements in grid infrastructure where capacitive touch technology becomes necessary.

Let’s start with the largest segment of grid infrastructure: electric meter applications. Utility companies are mainly interested in minimizing the distribution losses and recovery of funds for the electricity usage. Smart electric meters have been significantly growing in this market and are using keypads for the number or token entry to validate the purchase. 

Figure 1. Examples of electric meters

Replacing the mechanical buttons with capacitive touch technology in smart meter applications could solve many issues:

  • Sealing problems around the large number of keys (dirt, water, moisture resistance etc.)  
  • Excluding discharges from a Taser® gun or other determined attacks (arc faults), related to meter tampering
  • Exposure to noisy conditions within the grid with outdoor deployments

With our CapTIvate™ technology on MSP430™ microcontrollers (MCUs), utilities could really solve these problems over existing solutions in a very effective manner due to the following features.

  1. Robust nature of this solution which is IEC61000-4-6 certified
  2. Moisture  and water resistant panel
  3. Multiple button requirements (up to 64 buttons)
  4. Added MCU use case for monitoring applications increasing the overall intelligence

Also, the ultra-low-power consumption of MSP430 MCUs with 0.9uA per button helps maintain the required 10 years of battery life for these applications.

We also see an increase in use cases for other end equipment within a smart grid infrastructure, including:

  • Flow meters

   

  • Panel meters ( voltage, current, power monitoring units )  

   

  • Sub-station control panels

  

The features of CapTIvate technology provide unique differentiation to many types of smart meters and helps improve the overall user interface. 

To learn more about our ultra-low-power MCUs and our CapTIvate technology: