Thursday, August 9, 2012

Living And Working In Sustainable Environments - Electrical Challenges

Electricity is convenient but also not as efficient to generate or transport as you might think. Electricity will become a more and more expensive commodity and for this reason more efficient ways of using and storing electricity will have to be employed. If you are moving towards a more sustainable office or home environment you may simply use load shifting storing lower cost energy in the night for use during peak hours or you are likely to employ alternative energy generation techniques which may reach from Solar or Wind to Propane or other Combustion Engines.
There are more than one reason to use an off-grid system and often a mixed system allowing you to use the grid as a backup is an appropriate implementation.

If you have native DC devices such as computers, LED lighting and other DC capable systems delivering the energy in form of DC is mostly 15% more efficient than delivering it in form of AC which requires AC to DC converting power supplies. For this reason it will become paramount that electricians and Electrical Engineering companies understand this and plan new construction with AC and DC systems in mind. The most appropriate voltage for DC based systems is 48V.

Tri-Generation
There is the tri-generation environment where typically Grid-Power, Propane Generation and Solar and/or Wind are all feeding the same system. This is for mission critical applications where power will always be available at the lowest cost and as much renewable power as generated is used. Also this system benefits greatly from separating DC capable devices from higher energy-consuming devices that may have to be supplied from and AC source like the Grid or a Generator.

On-Grid System
An On-Grid System is based on Solar or PV Generators feeding the grid via a separate meter, the energy supplied to the grid is credited to your account. The energy used by you from the grid is charged as usual. There is no backup to the grid, if the grid fails there is no energy.

Grid Assist or Solar Assist
A Grid Assist System is typically based on Solar and Wind Generation coupled with the grid charging the storage batteries when insufficient wind or sunlight is available. Solar Assist is normally used for mission critical systems where security is the main concern, in this case the equipment is powered by the grid at the same time as it is powered by an alternative energy charger, it will consume most of the energy provided by solar or wind but also a small amount of grid power.

Load Shifting
In cases when at certain night times power is at a significantly lower cost outweighing any losses in the charging of batteries and conversion to the form of energy required in peak times, a Load Shifting system is a way to save financial and fossil resources.

Off-Grid System
The reasons to employ a system that is totally off-grid can be the cost to get a remote location on the grid or requiring mission capability when the grid fails. An off-grid system can be Solar and Wind Generation only or coupled with a Propane or other Combustion Engine / Turbine Generator to allow seamless energy during spells of no wind or sufficient sunlight or exhaustion of battery storage.

When becoming more energy-efficient you will have to consider running a mixed DC and AC system unless you are willing to go all out for latest technology advancements in air conditioning, heating and cooking, you may want limit yourself to lighting systems for now which can be made super efficient and you can go off-grid with lighting due to the significantly reduced energy required to produce light with some LED lighting products.

Large energy users are not so readily replaceable, so for cooking or big electrical machinery the grid or a generator supply is often necessary as the conversion loss from DC to AC is not attractive. Also heaters and cooking equipment could be replaced with propane or methane apparatus which is significantly cheaper to run.

In office and industrial environments additional controls such as motion sensors, daylight sensors, dimmer and programmatic control can save very significant amounts of energy. This means bringing a low voltage and a high voltage junction box to the light switch location, a feature all electricians and Mechanical Engineers should keep in mind.

Klaus Bollmann is a 30 year veteran in energy conservation, resource saving innovative products for a sustainable environment. Click the link If you are interested in Ringdale DC Systems high performance 48V DC products or ActiveLED 48V DC capapable lighting systems.

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