INsight: Ready to Review Your Energy Needs?
Energy Services – Beyond MEP Engineering
It is becoming increasingly important for facility owners and managers to develop a strategic plan for their energy usage now and in the future. But what does that entail? The following article will help clarify why a strategic energy plan is so important, and what should be considered in the planning process.
Strategic Energy Plan Considerations
With the increasing focus on energy costs, system inefficiencies and tightening 2014 energy standards, it is crucial for owners and facility managers to develop a strategic energy plan that will prepare their facilities for the future. A strategic energy plan should be revisited every 5 years, at a minimum, or when new regulatory standards or other events dictate re-evaluation. There are key components that need to be integrated into this plan, which are briefly discussed in the following paragraphs.
Predicting the Future
As with any strategic plan, forecasting for a certain time period is key. However, in order to predict the future, we need to know where we’ve been, and this includes determining where energy costs are headed, based on local, regional, national and international metrics on availability, reliability and costs of electricity, natural gas and fuel. Some questions to ask are 1) How will fuel sources keep up with demand, 2) Will more sustainable power be on the grid, and 3) How does that impact costs in the short and long term? In addition, global demand could ultimately impact U.S. power, so it is important to look at the international perspective. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) puts out annual energy reports that can assist in these projections. State agencies also publish forecasts of projected and pending rate changes.
Regulations that deal with environmental compliance are ever-changing. A strategic energy plan must review these regulations and analyze short and long- term issues on the local, state and federal level, as well as internationally. In the State of California, the Environmental Protection Agency, specifically the Air Resources Board, can provide the latest permitting requirements for any equipment upgrades to your facility that discharge air emissions. Further information for your local jurisdiction can be found at www.arb.ca.gov/drdb/dismap.htm.
There are numerous incentives and tax credits available through state, federal or utility rebates for facility owners who want to upgrade their existing energy infrastructure while reducing emissions and increasing energy efficiencies. Some examples of funding include State of California incentives programs, federal investment tax credits, federal and state depreciation, utility grid energy consumption reduction, third-party financing with end-user Power Purchase Agreements (PPA), and buyout options. Visit www.dsireusa.org for the latest Financial Incentives, Rules, Regulations & Policies related to renewables and energy efficiency upgrades in your specific locale.
Evaluating a facility’s energy systems can be initiated with a walk-through of the building. Potential areas to examine can include lighting and day-lighting, energy management systems, electrical distribution systems, building equipment scheduling, thermal energy storage, load shedding, building envelope, ventilation, cogeneration, waste heat recovery, commissioning/retro-commissioning, and additional measures.
Renewable/Clean Energy Solutions
Every thorough energy plan will consider renewable technologies including Biomass, Geothermal, Hydrogen Fuel Cells, Solar, Bio-diesel and Wind technologies as potential power sources. Determining if any of these options are technically feasible, operationally-reliable and cost-effective can be complicated. Renewable technologies are site-specific and utilize the natural constraints of the facility’s surroundings to produce energy. Randall Lamb has been successful in utilizing photo-voltaics (PV) for several of its projects in the higher education and military markets, adding high performance value. Other technologies may be costly in the short term, but utility/government incentives can help offset long-term effects.
Today owners of large businesses have a choice of purchasing natural gas on the open market rather than through the local gas company, saving bundled costs. Another option is purchasing primary versus secondary power at a lower rate. The benefit of lower electric rates is weighed against owning and maintaining a step-down transformer. As micro-grids grow in popularity, owners will have the option in the future of purchasing energy from third-party providers. These and other options should be investigated. Building owners also need to review the electric rate structure of their facility to verify that it is optimum for business needs.
Energy Source Diversification
Electric energy prices are typically structured according to a building’s peak demand usage. This means that the amount of energy used on a hot August afternoon could determine the price-per-kW of consumption for a facility’s peak hours of energy use year-round. Facility owners who manage their peak energy use have an opportunity to minimize their costs all year long by mitigating unexpected market conditions and/or adjusting the systems. For example, utilizing a gas-fired chiller rather than an electric chiller during peak hours shaves off peak demand expensive kW and could offer significant savings to the bottom line.
Depending on a facility’s coincident electrical and waste heat thermal load profile, distributed cogeneration might be an option that may include combustion, steam, micro-turbines, reciprocating engines and fuel cells. A minimum of 4,000 hours/year of operation are required for economic viability, in addition to other factors. The result could be overall efficiencies in the 75 to 85 percent range, vs. 40 to 50 percent using traditional energy sources.
Unplanned Utility Outages
Unplanned utility outages and/or utility “brown out” conditions have left more consumers looking into on-site stand-by power generation systems. It is important to weigh the economic impact of stand-by power vs. an outage to determine its viability.
Key Performance Indicators
Key performance indicators (KPI), measured in MMB TU/sq. ft. per/yr., or dollars/sq. ft. per yr., are baseline energy consumption measurements. Monitoring a facility’s KPIs over its lifetime gives owners a way to track building performance relative to a baseline, or against other facilities.
In summary, the suggestions for forming a strategic energy plan above will provide your facility with the direction it needs to make sound utility infrastructure decisions. For more information, please contact Rick Lyons at , or (619) 713-5722.
As the issue of sustainable energy has become more prevalent and important in our industry, Randall Lamb has embraced more efficient, reliable and independent energy alternatives. Our Energy Services Division offers experience in cogeneration, which is an efficient and clean approach to generating power and thermal energy from a single fuel source. The simultaneous production of electricity and heat, referred to as combined heat and power (CHP), greatly reduces the inefficiencies of separate heat and power systems that release heat into the environment. As defined by the U.S. Department of Energy:
“Combined Heat and Power (CHP) is… generating electricity right near where it will be used, and then recycling the thermal energy for heating or cooling. It’s very efficient, it already supplies 10% of our nation’s energy, and it can and should supply more.” (U.S. Department of Energy, Pacific Clean Energy Application Center;www.pacificcleanenergy.org)
The CHP waste heat recovery technology captures a significant amount of otherwise waste by-product energy which is then utilized for heating or cooling purposes. The result is lower operating costs due to less fuel required, plus the added environmental benefit of a reduction in emissions. Traditional methods of separately producing usable heat and power has a typical combined efficiency of 45%, while CHP systems can operate at efficiency levels as high as 80%. These efficiencies will differ depending on the methodology used and specifics of the site.
There are two types of CHP – the topping cycle, and the bottoming cycle. In a topping cycle CHP system (Figure 1), fuel is first used as a prime mover to generate electricity. Waste heat off the process is then recovered and used in a heating or cooling application.
In a bottoming cycle CHP system, fuel is first used to provide thermal input to a boiler or some other high temperature industrial process. Heat rejected from the process is then recovered and typically used in a steam turbine to generate electricity.
Primary components of CHP Technologies include (energy.ca.gov):
- Reciprocating engines – internal combustion engines convert the energy contained in a fuel into mechanical power. This mechanical power is used to turn a shaft in the engine. A generator is attached to the IC engine to convert the rotational motion into power. Reciprocating engines are the most common and most technically mature of all Distributed Energy Resource technologies.
- Combustion turbines – Conventional combustion turbine generators are a very mature technology and typically have efficiencies in the range of 20-45% at full load.
- Micro-turbines – Small combustion turbines that produce between 25kW and 500kW of power. Most micro-turbines are single-stage, radial flow devices with high rotating speeds of 90,000 to 120,000 revolutions per minute.
- Fuel Cells – A fuel cell is similar to a battery in that an electro-chemical reaction is used to create electric current. The charge carriers can be released through an external circuit via wire connections to anode and cathode plates of the battery or the fuel cell. There are four primary fuel cell technologies. These include phosphoric acid fuel cells, molten carbonate fuel cells, solid oxide fuel cells, and proton exchange membrane fuel cells.
The following are characteristics of a facility which would be a good candidate for CHP:
- Coincident electric and thermal load
- High hours of operation (typically 4,000/yr. considered a minimum)
- Good “Spark Spread” (CHP fuel cost vs. purchased electricity cost)
Assuming you’re a good candidate, the next important step optimizes CHP economics and involves selecting the right technology for integration into the facility and properly sizing equipment (sized to meet thermal demand, not electrical).
Our experience with the technology assists our clients in determining the optimum solution for their energy requirements. The Energy Services Division can assist decision makers in evaluating the best path forward for their present and future energy infrastructure needs.