{{Article.Title}}

{{Article.SubTitle}}

By {{Article.AuthorName}} | {{Article.PublicationDate.slice(6, -2) | date:'EEEE, MMMM d, y'}}
{{TotalFavorites}} Favorite{{TotalFavorites>1? 's' : ''}}
{{Article.Caption}}

The future is now in the energy resiliency space. For many commercial and industrial contractors, resiliency has become top of mind due to increased demands on power grids, calamitous weather events and higher electricity costs. 

The extent of the impact depends greatly upon where one works and lives. Manhattan, for example, now requires significant emissions reductions in its buildings by way of the New York City Climate Mobilization Act, and California is now mandating that all new homes be equipped for solar electricity. Other states and regions will surely follow with their own measures, while others will lag to lesser and greater degrees.

Nevertheless, projects will be plentiful for those electrical, solar and specialty contractors that can offer a competitive edge for commercial project owners. Data centers and hospitals in particular will continue to need the most advanced systems available and the right construction teams to install electrical infrastructure. That will no doubt translate into new revenue streams as energy resiliency becomes both attractive and necessary.

DEMAND SURGE

California appears to be the current epicenter for resiliency innovations. Ravi Sankaran, director of business development for MMR Power Solutions in Long Beach, California, says he’s noticed a recent ramp-up in demand for independent power solutions, mostly from smaller independent industrial clients. The heightened interest is primarily due to three factors—higher utility costs, unreliable grid power and a desire to reduce emissions. “The first two are the bigger drivers right now,” Sankaran says. 

Founded in 2003 as a division of Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based MMR Group, MMR Power Solutions designs and constructs microgrids, cogeneration projects, solar and battery storage systems for industrial clients. In the process, the design-builder first examines a client’s consumption data and utility tariffs, then creates simulations using various configurations and technologies. Once a configuration has been selected, the company performs preliminary design work to gauge the system’s feasibility. 

MMR Power Solutions’ work is almost entirely within existing facilities as opposed to new construction, Sankaran says. “Typically, they’ve come to the realization that they need to do something about their power supply,” he adds, “but each one of these projects is unique.” 

Battery technology has shown the most promise in recent years, primarily due to reduced costs, increasing frequency of extreme weather and power outages, and revenue opportunities in new markets. More often than not, the systems are designed to complement renewable energy sources at the facility. “Last year, we commissioned a project in Fresno where we installed a microgrid consisting of natural gas generators, battery storage and a solar farm,” Sankaran says. “The batteries store the solar energy for when it’s needed and provide protection against a power outage.”

Battery storage has existed for years, but it has recently become more cost effective, and the batteries are becoming more energy dense. “Today, we can pair an independent power plant with energy storage and provide a ‘spinning reserve,’” he adds. “That helps to insulate the owner from the grid and better ride out an outage.” The technology is undoubtedly gaining traction—a relatively new industry standard, UL 9540, offers safety guidance for energy storage systems, along with requirements and testing protocols.

A leader in that arena, SimpliPhi Power in Oxnard, California, offers a “highly scalable” battery-based system that can be used to provide backup power. SimpliPhi supplies customers in nearly all markets across 40 countries. 

SimpliPhi CEO and President Catherine Von Burg says the batteries are safer and not prone to overheating because they rely upon environmentally benign lithium ferro phosphate (LFP) chemistry, as opposed to more common lithium nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide (NMC) or lithium nickel-cobalt-aluminum oxide (NCA) chemistries that have been prone to thermal runaways (i.e., releasing too much energy and creating a fire hazard). 

SimpliPhi’s battery systems can work safely by themselves, in conjunction with any form of electricity generation technology, not just renewables—and can even be hooked up directly to the grid. Many systems are installed with traditional gas or diesel generators to optimize those systems as well. They also offer greater energy density, thereby reducing the size of the “battery bank” in most locations. Another big plus—the price of implementation has come down by as much as 50% over the last 10 years. 

“The upfront cost pencils out, especially when factoring in the cost of a power outage,” Von Burg says. “The projects we’ve supplied wouldn’t have happened if the economics weren’t strong enough to make a compelling business case.”

Battery systems also allow owners to store energy when the price is low and deploy the energy during periods of peak demand. That creates significant economic value for an industrial or commercial owner. “The cost is lower than what an owner might typically pay the utility,” she adds, “especially in areas where there are time-of-use and high-demand charges.”

SimpliPhi is also seeking out collaborations. In a recent development, the company partnered with Heila Technologies to deploy intelligent energy “storage+solar” systems at a demonstration project in Shreveport, Louisiana, with the support of Southwestern Electric Power Co. The project will ultimately aggregate distributed energy resources and empower SWEPCO to manage these assets as an optimized fleet. Under a single platform, SWEPCO will be able to leverage the systems to correct power factor, perform peak shaving and manage overall energy supply, all while improving customer resiliency. 

In the process, the batteries measure and report voltage, current and temperatures, in addition to performing useful calculations to determine real-time battery state of charge, state of health and fault detection. 

Von Burg hopes the project will serve as a model for other stakeholders who are interested in the benefits of decentralized energy generation and storage. “Behind-the-meter energy storage is a cost-effective way to help utilities and customers manage their electricity usage with the security of knowing they have access to stored energy that can be seamlessly integrated into the grid,” she says.

AFFORDABILITY HURDLES

Designing resiliency into an energy system can nevertheless become cost prohibitive, and the more variables there are to consider—e.g., lead time, cost, available space and geography—the tougher the decision can be, says Chris Martinez, president of Central Electric in San Antonio. His company’s customers are becoming more proactive in their resiliency planning, but upfront costs often get in the way. 

Owners typically begin with a cost-benefit analysis. “They determine how many times they might go down in a year and identify their ‘Achilles heel’—production, data on my servers, etc.—before making a decision,” Martinez says. Central Electric helps in the effort by performing a financial analysis, as well as looking at the upfront costs and long-term operational benefits.

Grassroots construction projects typically make the most financial sense when it comes to resiliency and efficiency investments. “Everybody wants to be responsible but, in the end, you do what’s in the best interest of the business,” Martinez says. “There’s the social obligation, but then you also have to be financially responsible to the people on your team.”

Doug Post, an engineer with electrical design-builder Interstates, headquartered in Sioux Center, Iowa, says it’s better from a cost and efficiency standpoint to design in electrical resiliency before a processing plant is built. “Early planning results in a more robust solution than having to make modifications to an existing facility,” Post says.

Scott Peterson, Interstates’ CEO, says clients often ask to price alternative sources of power, but that the return on investment typically isn’t where it needs to be for industrial projects. “For now, we’re not seeing much of it on the industrial design side, at least in the Midwest,” Peterson says. That could change, however, as pricing dynamics improve.

While Interstates’ clients don’t talk much about electrical resiliency, they are increasingly focused on federal emissions regulations, “whether that be carbon emissions or other environmental sustainability initiatives,” Peterson says. “They recognize that the regulations are here to stay and that they might become even more aggressive going forward. Some of our clients are starting to take their efforts to the next level.”

GENERATORS REMAIN THE MAINSTAY OF RESILIENCY 

Martinez says February’s ice event and recent state mandates in Texas regarding energy conservation during the summer months have ramped up demand for large-scale commercial generators (25 kilowatts to 1-2 megawatts) from 10 a year “to just that many in my backlog.”

Unfortunately, the lead time on generator deliveries has increased in tandem from three to six months, due to increased demand and other supply chain issues. “I recently took a call from a developer looking for a backup generation system that he was hoping to get it in July,” Martinez says. “We’ll be lucky to have it by the end of the year.”

The extended power failures during the ice storm exposed weaknesses in Texas’ power grid and raised awareness of the need for energy resiliency. “[The storm] exposed the weaknesses of two fuel sources,” he says. “Many of our clients were struggling to get diesel because fuel companies weren’t letting their tankers drive on the road, and the demand for natural gas shot up, which lowered line pressures. Those generators need a certain amount of pressure or they won’t start.”

As such, many owners are proactively designing new and existing buildings with permanent generators or “prepping them for rollup units” via docking stations—whereby the electrical wiring is configured (or reconfigured during a renovation) to accommodate a mobile unit.

Rollup generators are the more popular choice in San Antonio because power failure rates remain relatively low. Some customers even own their own rollups and move them to various locations on an as-needed basis. “There’s increased interest in having the ability to rent a generator on a truck or trailer … then all you have to do is plug them in and flip a few switches,” Martinez says. “On the other hand, if you own a generator, you have to cycle it on a regular basis and maintain it.” 

Of course, a reliance upon mobile generators carries some risk. When Hurricane Harvey impacted Houston in 2017, rental generators were hard to find because many were already in use at area refineries.

EXPANDING THE RESILIENCY DEFINITION

Technology is playing its own unique role with regard to energy resiliency and efficiency. There’s a growing interest in timed lighting controls, natural daylighting and more efficient HVAC equipment. Owners are also becoming more savvy about scheduling their equipment to power up and power down at specified times. 

It’s all intended to reduce the load on the energy matrix. “If a building has eight air handlers, for example, you can alternate them during certain times,” Martinez says. “You start being creative in order to avoid rolling blackouts. If you can blow cold air for 30 minutes and circulate it for 10 minutes, and then do that throughout the building, you’re cutting the time your air handlers are having to produce cold air.” Facilities are also being designed to be more automated so that electrical needs are cut in half during off hours. 

Interstates’ Post says cybersecurity should also be part of the resiliency discussion. The Interstates team works extensively on designing and constructing resilient Operational Technology (OT) systems—the machines on the plant floor—for industrial clients. In the process, Interstates designs and installs automation on the plant floor, as well as manages the interface between OT and IT.
Most of Interstates’ clients first perform a risk assessment that helps with allocating resources for resiliency investments. A variety of analytics are also used to determine the optimal performance of existing systems.

Post says Interstates does the lion’s share of OT design and implementation in-house. “We provide the full service for our clients in those areas,” he adds, “and we’re able to bundle that with controls and electrical installation in a way that uniquely positions us in the marketplace.” 

Print

 Comments ({{Comments.length}})

  • {{comment.Name}}

    {{comment.Text}}

    {{comment.DateCreated.slice(6, -2) | date: 'MMM d, y h:mm:ss a'}}

Leave a comment

Required!
Required! Not valid email!
Required!