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Preparing For Alternative Energy

As a followup to Building Your Own Power Plant, I wanted to share some of what we've learned over the past year in our building and energy projects.

As a followup to Building Your Own Power Plant, I wanted to share some of what we've learned over the past year in our building and energy projects.Doing everything, within reason, to measure, test and monitor how much power/energy is consumed is akin to an inventory exercise. Then, tackle each area systematically to determine whether or not a system, component or replacement element is in order for the sake of conserving energy. The process seems simple, but understand that even after you think you've checked everything- you go back again maybe once or twice as we did and then ask further questions of vendors supporting other systems. Before adopting any alternative energy (AE) solution, I believe that conservation and efficiency are still the crucial first steps to maximize what energy sources you are using, and to do this requires taking inventory of your wares and understanding how they are powered.

In our building project that we started in January, we've made several provisions to tie in any AE solution, be it solar, geothermal or wind. The 3-inch conduit from the roof to the utility room is for the solar hot water system (SHWS). The system is a Schuco closed loop and uses a DC powered controller to circulate a glycol solution to and from the two solar thermal panels on the roof. The purpose of the 3-inch conduit is to add an additional thermal layer, provide easy serviceability/access in the event that the plumbing and/or electrical harness to and from the panels need replacing or repairing, and to provide protection against contractors (accidents, drilling, screws) and any leakage. This was by our design at a cost of under $80 and that's for approximately 60 feet.

Our roof is an Englert structured metal roof system with Kynar paint designed to reflect the sun's heat or to deliver what's called "cool roof" technology.

We also installed an additional spare 2-inch conduit running to the roof from the utility room for future use for solar PV (photovoltaics). The purpose of the 2-inch to the roof is to accommodate a solar PV plant on the roof. Determine the size of conduit you need by a couple of factors: Determine the expected electrical load and this will determine wire size (gauge). Then, determine the distance from the system to your utility closet so you can factor in any loss and adjust by increasing the wire size (gauge).

Solar PV production is limited to available roof space, and we know our roof space (square footage) and designed roof loads (weight tolerances and wind loads). The electrical loads will dictate the gauge of the conductors used in the wire, and that determines the overall size of wire, so your conduit must support the wire being used, plus any contingency or growth considerations. We also ran a 1-inch conduit from the utility closet to the parking area to provide a feed for future use. The reason behind the 1-inch PV near the parking area is to use a bifacial solar PV panel from Sanyo (Sanyo HIT Double). The double-sided panels produce additional energy through reflected light. The 1-inch can also support a connection to charge an electric vehicle.

We only have one utility room, unlike the stacked closets and riser systems many of you support. But whatever space you do have, it must be able to support any power plant or AE wares, and there's plenty of gear to consider. Review AE system components, footprints, power requirements, and venting along with how to adapt the AE wares to your existing electrical distribution system. Don't leave anything to chance and remember location is a key factor. We may add solar PV to the roof or over the parking area since both locations are due south. AE gear doesn't last forever, so it must be serviceable.

Another thing to face is that in comparison to our efficiency and conservation efforts of the past, reality tells me that we can't plan to stay at the same level of energy consumption and need to consider growth, and then again weigh it against reality and the question of Net Zero sustainability.

Several weeks ago a reader asked about a "Power Plan." Since then, I've pondered over the question. What does an energy plan look like?

Ours has simply been a one liner in the business plan and that is "to provide efficient and sustainable operations for business continuation." I've mentioned before that unless you have support from the top, then your efforts may be hindered, and I still believe this to be true. Obviously, I believe that AE is in our future. I know and understand that all the networks I ever installed are "powered plants." As for addressing a power plan - I believe it's in the best interest of management to set the vision corporately, provide adequate resources and then get out of the way and let that vision get worked.

I also mentioned enterprises that adopted solar PV in the previous article, and it seems apparent that they do think AE is vital for their continued operations. No power, no business sustainability. The other "one factor" that everyone needs to understand is that there is no magic bullet that is going to solve all our problems of demand, costs and reliability, and the immediate hope mentioned is in Communications and Energy as Eric said, "How can enterprises deploy communications technology, and especially the new Unified Communications capabilities, to reduce energy consumption by employees throughout their day--whether it's commuting to and from an office, or whether we're talking about the way the enterprise moves people and materials around in the course of doing whatever the company does for a living."

For the large enterprise my suggestion is to get cooperative with the facilities folks. A clear vision and understanding of energy and its many obstacles for the organization directly impacts how it (the organization) can compete and survive in any energy situation, and this may mean new thinking and adopting new methods similar to Google's. For now and in the near future, cheap energy isn't thought to be achievable. In short, go change a light bulb, add capacitors to correct power factor, implement flywheel UPS, figure out how to use waste heat, investigate geothermal systems for your datacenters, and consider hanging solar panels. This can and is being done by both SMBs and large enterprises.