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Green

As Renewables Flood the Grid, Opportunity Knocks For Building Management

By | Backup power, Critical Power Products & Services, Green

As Renewables Flood the Grid, Opportunity Knocks For Building Management

When we talk about adding renewable energy to the U.S. power supply, there is often a lot of talk about getting that power from the supply source (the solar farm or wind turbines, etc.) to the local power grid. There is less talk of what happens once that power hits the grid and how buildings may be able to adapt to the influx of power from renewable sources.

Can site managers capitalize on renewable energy inputs to optimize energy consumption?

Capitalizing On Peak and Off-Peak Demand and Availability

Building technologies are changing at a fast pace. The rise of smart systems has made it possible for site managers to control buildings from afar, but what if such systems could be taken further and tweaked to optimize a site’s energy resources?

It’s not a new concept, but what is new is how building managers are using those technologies in response to changes in the power grid, specifically, power that comes from renewable sources. The biggest change comes in the way we think about buildings. Instead of managing demand to fulfill the load requirements of buildings and still conserve energy, building managers are now starting to think about how they can adapt to grids with high amounts of renewable energy or even sites that have on-site renewable power sources.

Renewable energy often operates in spurts, with different days or times of day generating more power than others. As opposed to peak shaving, some sites are planning their peak operating times around these times of peak renewables generation. The idea is that by utilizing renewable power when it is at peak production, sites will realize cost savings.

It’s similar to the concept of running your most power-heavy equipment at off-peak times to benefit from off-peak rates. The trick is figuring out when renewable energy will peak and aligning your demand around those times.

Pricing Plans Are Key

Pinpointing when and how to run peak loads at times of high renewable inputs requires understanding a site’s energy data and consumption patterns as well as knowing when different energy sources are available and shifting site operations appropriately.

There are three pieces of information that can help you gauge when it’s a good time to capitalize on renewable inputs:

Forecast load for buildings.

Weather forecasts.

Time of day pricing estimates.

Time of day pricing is critical to this form of energy management to work. Without it, there are no peak and off-peak pricing differences; you’ll pay the same rate no matter what time of day it is and regardless of how strong the sun is shining down at the solar farm.

 

It’s possible that as the U.S. energy grid adapts to add more renewables, energy providers will adapt their pricing structures as well to include more time of day pricing options. When that happens, there will be incredible potential for site managers to benefit from systems that automatically adjust a building’s energy consumption, and boost overall efficiency.

Microgrids Get A Fresh Look

By | Green

After the hurricanes the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. has seen this year, there’s been a lot of talk about stabilizing and improving the power grid to contend with major events. One idea is that of microgrids, which are used throughout Alaska and in other states to power business, industries, and communities, some of which are extremely remote and difficult to connect to the main power grid.

What Is A Microgrid?

A microgrid is a localized energy grid that operates independent of the power grid. It is connected the main power grid, but can be disconnected if need be. The main purpose is to stabilize power supply to that specific location; when the main grid dips or fails, the microgrid can pick up the slack.

The microgrids in Alaska are powered by a variety of solutions: wind, solar, hydroelectric, diesel generators, batteries, and even flywheels are all used. In many cases, more than one source of power is used. The state has been investing in microgrids for over 50 years and can provide a lot of guidance industries, communities, and states interested in stabilizing their power supply.

Microgrids can be as large or small as you need them to be. Small, site-specific grids can be particularly helpful for hospitals, universities, military bases, and other key service providers, allowing them to keep operations going when the main grid goes down, such as after some of the hurricanes we’ve seen this year.

Resurgence Of The Microgrid

Microgrids aren’t a new concept, they just fell out of favor when centralized grids became a more cost-effective solution. Why would communities invest in their own microgrid when the energy companies were providing reliable power at less cost?

Now, however, microgrids are getting a second look, particularly in areas that are hard-hit by natural disasters, where it is difficult to maintain a traditional grid, and by businesses and communities that want to invest in renewable sources of energy. Technology has improved; costs have come down, and the demand for power reliability has increased. Modern society can’t function without power, which is forcing business and government leaders to consider how best to provide that power, in any way possible.

The microgrid may just be the answer.

Where Do Old Wind Turbine Blades Go To Die?

By | Equipment Disposal, Green, recycle power equipment

With wind turbines estimated to last between 20-25 years, some of the earliest turbines are coming due for decommissioning. As these aged turbines start to need replacing, there’s a question of what to do with them. Fortunately, many parts of the wind turbine are recyclable. The foundation, tower, gearbox and generator can all be recycled. The blades, however? That’s another story.

The Trouble With Turbine Blades

Turbine blades are designed for lightweight, aerodynamic performance, not recyclability. They are usually made from composite materials that can’t be separated into their component parts and recycled. At least not for now; though there is progress being made on that front.

Until wind turbine blades can be consistently and easily recycled, turbine owners have to find other ways to dispose of the enormous blades.

Post-Turbine Uses For Wind Turbine Blades

So, where do old wind turbine blades go to die? Turns out, many of them find new life and uses:

  • Architecture and Structures. The Netherlands has seen blades used in architecture and design such as seating, bus shelters, or even playgrounds.
  • New Composite Materials. Broken down wind turbine blades are being explored as a new composite material, similar to wood composite. Possible uses include flooring, road barriers, and more.
  • Fuel. Germany has the only industrial-scale wind turbine blade reprocessing factory in the world. The facility is exploring ways to use broken down blades as fuel by mixing fragments with other waste materials to be used in cement production.
  • Reuse. We can hardly talk about recycling without mentioning reuse. Some larger blades can be cut down and re-purposed as smaller blades for community turbines.

As more turbines are replaced, we hope that even more innovative ideas and practices will arise that will keep the blades out of landfills. There’s also a strong likelihood that new materials will be developed that are more recyclable or biodegradable, making waste less of a concern when an old turbine comes down.

What Impact Do Solar Eclipses Have On Solar Power?

By | Backup power, Green

On August 21, 2017, much of the U.S. will be able to see a total or near-total solar eclipse. While the phenomenon has been met with excitement by many, it also raises the question of how solar eclipses impact solar power generation. This is a situation we haven’t really faced before, since the widespread use of solar power and total eclipses have rarely overlapped.

Hitting right in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its highest and strongest point in the sky, covering much of the continental U.S., and expected to last over two hours in some locations, the eclipse will definitely have an impact on solar farms. Fortunately, we knew this day was coming and grid operators seem to be prepared.

Planning And Preparation Is Key To Dependable Solar Power

1,900 utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants are in the path of the eclipse. California alone is expecting a 6,000 megawatt power shortage due to the eclipse – the equivalent to losing the power demand of Los Angeles from 9 a.m. until noon. North Carolina is also expected to see a big dip in power since the state will experience a near 90% sun obscurity.

U.S. power companies watched the 2015 European eclipse carefully to see what impact, if any, the eclipse had on the much-more heavily solar dependent countries like Germany. In that instance, Germany saw a dip from 21.7 GW to 6.2 GW during the duration of the eclipse but was still able to provide the power needed by the German people. A good reason for that came down to planning and preparation – and that same approach has been adopted in the U.S.

Part of the reason why the eclipse isn’t expected to affect the power grid is because the U.S. grid remains diverse. The solar power that we will miss out on due to the eclipse will be replaced with power from wind turbines, hydropower, and natural gas plants. It’s possible that consumers may still be asked to conserve electricityduring the eclipse, but the hope is that by ramping up power from other sources, the power availability won’t suffer and consumers won’t have to change their daily habits.

It will be interesting to see how the eclipse affect solar power generation across the country and how the power companies respond. If nothing else, it will be a good study on the impact solar power is having on our electrical supply and the backup plans that are in place to preserve continuity of power.

As for August 21, we don’t know about you, but we’ll be too busy watching the eclipse to be worried about power loss.

Legalization Of Marijuana Is Impacting Power Consumption – And Not The Way You Expected

By | Green, recycle power equipment

How’s this for an unintended side effect of so many states legalizing the sale and consumption of marijuana? A dip in power consumption.

While many thought that marijuana legalization would overwhelm the power grid, and we did see a spike in demand when states first legalized it, demand is leveling off for a totally unforeseen reason: more growers are taking their crops outside.

Yep, now that farmers no longer have to keep their crops hidden, they are taking them outside or setting up greenhouses when possible. There’s also more investment in energy efficient lighting, heating, pumps, and cooling systems now that there is nothing to hide.

All of this adds up to less demand on the power grid than anticipated and a boost for several different industries that manufacture systems and equipment used by marijuana growers. Energy companies, however, may be singing a different tune – after all, there’s money to be made from an industry that is as power hungry as marijuana farming.

Ways To Boost Efficiency Of Indoor Farms

Some states don’t allow farmers to grow marijuana outside just yet but that doesn’t mean those farmers can’t take step to rein in their operating costs. Indoor marijuana farms can ease their reliance on the local grid by:

  • Investing in high-efficiency LED lighting. Not only do you save on energy consumed by the bulbs, they give off less heat that has to be drawn away from the plants.
  • Increasing access to natural sunlight such as through skylights.
  • Adding an on-site generator to provide on-demand, off-grid power.
  • Install on-site solar panels to offset demand for grid power.
  • Take advantage of grants and financial assistance. Some states, like Oregon, are offering incentives to marijuana growers who install energy efficient measures.

We’re certain as more and more states legalize marijuana, farmers being to network, and the industry comes out into the open, more ideas, methods, and best practices for optimizing power consumption will emerge. With marijuana, it seems, there is always a surprise around the corner.

As Renewables Flood The Grid, Opportunity Knocks For Building Management

By | Green

When we talk about adding renewable energy to the U.S. power supply, there is often a lot of talk about getting that power from the supply source (the solar farm or wind turbines, etc.) to the local power grid. There is less talk of what happens once that power hits the grid and how buildings may be able to adapt to the influx of power from renewable sources.

Can site managers capitalize on renewable energy inputs to optimize energy consumption?

Capitalizing On Peak And Off-Peak Demand And Availability

Building technologies are changing at a fast pace. The rise of smart systems has made it possible for site managers to control buildings from afar, but what if such systems could be taken further and tweaked to optimize a site’s energy resources?

It’s not a new concept, but what is new is how building managers are using those technologies in response to changes in the power grid, specifically, power that comes from renewable sources. The biggest change comes in the way we think about buildings. Instead of managing demand to fulfill the load requirements of buildings and still conserve energy, building managers are now starting to think about how they can adapt to grids with high amounts of renewable energy or even sites that have on-site renewable power sources.

Renewable energy often operates in spurts, with different days or times of day generating more power than others. As opposed to peak shaving, some sites are planning their peak operating times around these times of peak renewables generation. The idea is that by utilizing renewable power when it is at peak production, sites will realize cost savings.

It’s similar to the concept of running your most power-heavy equipment at off-peak times to benefit from off-peak rates. The trick is figuring out when renewable energy will peak and aligning your demand around those times.

Pricing Plans Are Key

Pinpointing when and how to run peak loads at times of high renewable inputs requires understanding a site’s energy data and consumption patterns as well as knowing when different energy sources are available and shifting site operations appropriately.

There are three pieces of information that can help you gauge when it’s a good time to capitalize on renewable inputs:

  1. Forecast load for buildings.
  2. Weather forecasts.
  3. Time of day pricing estimates.

Time of day pricing is critical to this form of energy management to work. Without it, there are no peak and off-peak pricing differences; you’ll pay the same rate no matter what time of day it is and regardless of how strong the sun is shining down at the solar farm.

It’s possible that as the U.S. energy grid adapts to add more renewables, energy providers will adapt their pricing structures as well to include more time of day pricing options. When that happens, there will be incredible potential for site managers to benefit from systems that automatically adjust a building’s energy consumption.

Is It Possible To Harness Too Much Solar Power? California Says Yes

By | Backup power, Green

California leads the nation in the production of solar power. Solar produces nearly 14% of the state’s electricity annually. Some months that percentage climbs higher and some months it is lower. And those high months are starting to cause problems for the Golden State.

In March 2017, solar energy accounted for 40% of the state’s electricity. Sounds great, right? It’s exactly the direction you’d expect a state so heavily invested in solar would be thrilled to experience. Except it hasn’t turned out so great.

More Solar Than The Grid Can Handle

As the LA Times reported, the state’s electrical grid can’t handle all that solar power so California actually had to pay other states to take the surplus! This has already happened several times this year. California can’t risk overloading its’ power lines and causing power outages. To prevent that from happening, the state has to offload the excess and/or order solar plants to reduce their production at certain times of year. If states can use the solar electricity, they get it for free. If they don’t necessarily need it, California might pay them to take it.

Grids Are Slow To Adapt To Renewables

The situation highlights an unanticipated problem with the power grid: grids aren’t ready to handle the influx of renewable energy sources. Since solar supply (and demand) fluctuates throughout the year, the gaps must be filled with electricity from fossil fuels. That means power grids have to have some overlap to accommodate both fossil fuel and solar produced electricity. For now, solar loses out. It’s simply easier to shut down a solar farm than a natural gas plant when supply exceeds demand.

Part of the problem may be that solar took off much faster than the state anticipated and policymakers and regulatory agencies are struggling to catch up. The solution likely lies in battery storage. As batteries become more efficient and affordable, the hope is that solar power can be safely stored and used when supply dips. Until then, power grids will still need to support both fossil fuel electricity and solar electricity equally, switching from one to the other as supply and demand dictate.

Yikes! Wind Turbine Fire Under Investigation, Reinforces Necessity Of Routine Inspections

By | Critical Power Products & Services, Emergency Preparedness, Green

In early June a wind turbine caught fire in Iowa. The fire caused the blades to disconnect and fall to the ground. While the cause of the fire was still unknown at the time of this post, it looks like mechanical failure is to blame. The fire started in the nacelle of the turbine, which is where the generator and equipment is housed.

While we don’t know for sure what caused the fire, if the turbine had undergone recent repairs, or what its inspection schedule looked like, the incident is a stark reminder that routine machinery inspections are a necessary part of doing business.

Head Off Problems Before They Start

Routine inspections and regular maintenance can help prevent large-scale disasters, but just as importantly, they help prevent small problems from becoming big problems. Not only are smaller problems faster and easier to resolve, they’re often cheaper too.

A routine maintenance program will keep you informed of the overall health and performance of your machinery. You will be able to track which pieces are racking up more and more downtime or requiring repairs more frequently. Use this information to help plan out a replacement timeframe and develop your capital equipment budgets.

As you begin to invest more and more time and money into maintaining old equipment, eventually the costs will outweigh the benefits and you will have a solid case for selling old equipment and purchasing new.

Is It Time To Revisit Your Maintenance Plan?

When was the last time your maintenance program was revised? Do you even have a plan in place? Developing an equipment maintenance plan (EMP) takes work at the outset, but once the plan has been developed, it simplifies processes and procedures and reduces your business’ risk exposure.

EMPs don’t have to be complex. At their most basic, EMPs are simple tables that list the piece of equipment and its’ routine maintenance tasks. You’ll also want to include the frequency of each task and if any special tools or considerations are required to perform the task. Special considerations might be whether the unit must be shut down or if it remains running during the task. More complex EMPs include the amount of time spent on each task so you can track how much time you are devoting to maintenance.

Hopefully, you’ll never find yourself in a situation where a piece of equipment catches fire and is destroyed like the wind turbine in Iowa, but if you do, a look back at your maintenance plan can help prove to insurance adjusters that you were doing everything possible to avoid such a catastrophe.