By Peter Panfil, John Wallace, P.E., and Gary Woodward
Published in the July 2009 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
The development of smart power grids is underway. Much of this activity and interest can be attributed to the significant amount of federal funds being made available by the U.S. government to upgrade the nation’s electrical infrastructure.
Utilities, government, and industry leaders see a smart grid as an ideal vehicle to enable utilities to enhance and manage better power distribution, while giving end users the ability to monitor and control their power usage. Many companies are already developing technologies that will enable the implementation and functionality of a smart grid; some of these technologies are already in use today.
The development of a smart grid promises a number of benefits for facility mangers (fms), including greater control of power consumption, energy efficiency, and cost reductions. And while an overhaul of the electrical grid will not be complete for years, if not decades, there are steps and considerations fms can take now to position their organizations to take advantage of the benefits, as well as to gain greater control of power consumption and decisions about energy usage.
Imagine A New Energy Value Chain
The first thing fms need to do is think differently about the energy value chain. The traditional electricity value chain has consisted of power generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption (see Figure 1). This process will significantly change as the move is made towards a smart grid.
In a recent TFM article [“Getting Smart With Energy,” by Tom Condon, May 2009], it was noted that tremendous technological progress has been made in the systems that generate and consume power. It is these technological advances that are helping lead to a smart grid and a completely new energy value chain.
This new energy value chain will link power generation and consumption more closely by dramatically upgrading the current transmission and distribution systems. This value chain will be better equipped for end users and utilities to work together to monitor usage and make decisions about power needs and consumption (see Figure 2).
The smart grid is not so much about poles and wires—although those are important—as it is about enhanced communication between generation and consumption, and everything in between.
Consider On-Site Generation
Many facilities currently have some form of on-site power generation; most commonly, this comes in the form of a generator. However, the use of this on-site power generation is limited—either through regulation or a lack of metering ability—to emergency back up power.
As moves are made toward the development of a smart grid, new technologies will enable fms to enhance their use of generators. They will be able to employ smart tools to balance their load needs. For example, during peak times, a facility could switch some of its load to generators, thereby saving costs.
Also, smart generation control systems will allow the integration and use of renewable forms of energy, such as solar and wind. Fms will be able to use this generation for facilities while also helping to stabilize and supplement power from the grid.
Many companies have received federal funding to develop advanced and innovative power conversion, energy storage, and energy management components for commercial and utility scale solar photovoltaic systems. The new products will include an integrated grid interface controller that works in conjunction with a customer smart meter to respond to time of day pricing signals as well as indicators of the grid’s level of stress. The total system will enable improved economics for power distribution and minimize wide fluctuations in supply and demand.
Determine Load Criticality
To realize the benefits of a smart grid, fms will need to initiate a stronger delineation between types of loads (such as non-essential, essential, and critical) and then manage the load types by policy. If there is an energy manager in the organization, the fm should work closely with him or her to determine load criticalities.
In a commercial building, a non-essential load might be lighting in unused areas. Essential loads could be delegated as hallway or office lighting, while critical loads could be assigned to data centers or emergency lighting. Delineating between types of loads and managing by policy will enable fms to plan and select loads that can be appropriately shed as the electric industry moves closer to a smart grid. Smart utility meters will communicate with monitors to provide fms with real time tools to gauge usage and associated costs. Fms can then make informed decisions, based on energy costs and load criticalities, to manage or reduce those costs.
Most facilities have some type of building automation system (BAS) to control operations such as lighting and HVAC. Some of these BASs have the capability to shed loads and provide a way to connect to the demand response programs many utilities have in place. These programs allow end users to work with utilities to turn off or shed designated, non-critical loads if certain conditions exist or peak demand times occur.
For example, if the rate of electricity increases to a certain level, the utility would alert the facility management staff. The BAS would shed load via predetermined actions, such as turning off banks of lights designated non-essential or moving the air conditioning set point up one degree.
Retail stores and supermarkets might be interested in the benefits associated with load shedding. Larger, multi-building facilities, such as universities and hospitals, have even more opportunity due to their larger energy requirements. Many customers in this market segment may currently have on-site generation with grid access. With the addition of renewable energy sources and a smart grid, fms will need to update these systems to optimize energy use.
As investments in smart grid technology continue, it’s important that fms prepare now and gain a better understanding and control of their energy consumption. This will enable them to make wiser decisions as a smart grid becomes a reality.
Panfil is vice president and general manager for Liebert AC Power, Emerson Network Power. Wallace is director of product management for Retail Solutions, Emerson Climate Technologies. Woodward is director of business development and product marketing with Power and Water Solutions, Emerson Process Management. Emerson Network Power, Emerson Climate Technologies, and Emerson Process Management are business units of Emerson (www.emerson.com).