Looking to Efficiency to Build Energy Independence

1/21/09

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energy efficiency of our existing grid. MicroPlanet is one of the companies providing advanced grid solutions. [The author is president and CEO of MicroPlanet---Eds.]

Our technology dynamically manages the voltage received from electric utilities to optimum levels at the point of consumption. In areas where incoming voltage is high, this allows customers to reduce energy consumption and lower their electric bills without changing behavior patterns. In areas where voltage is low, MicroPlanet’s products can raise it, enabling utilities to improve service quality for their customers quickly and cost effectively. In areas where there is a substantial amount of renewable generation, these same products will dynamically adjust the voltage up or down, to keep it at a stable, optimal setting.

This is a crucial—but often overlooked—part of the smart grid technology. Solutions that help us manage voltage efficiently can reduce consumption and enhance power quality. The optimal voltage for most businesses and residences in the U.S. is 114 volts; if it is higher, energy is wasted for most types of electrical loads. Lowering and stabilizing voltage also allows electrical devices to run cooler and last longer.

Unfortunately, the average American business and home runs at 120+ volts. Seventy percent of the utility industry’s customers receive more electricity voltage than they really need and can effectively utilize. In over 600 installations around the world over the last 10 years, we have seen that stabilizing and lowering voltage reduces energy consumption from 5 to 12 percent, while improving power quality.

Most utility grids were designed in an era of low energy costs. The primary directive from their regulatory boards was to make sure that the power was available 24/7. By design, utilities often distribute electricity from their substations at the highest allowable voltage to ensure that those at the end of the line get at least 114 volts.

Here’s an example of this problem. Take two businesses that need the same amount of electricity; the only difference is that one is near the sub-station and the other is further away. The company that’s near the sub-station gets 125 volts and pays $4,500 a month for its electricity, and the one that’s further away gets 114 volts and pays $4,000 a month for the same electrical load. The same is true for homeowners. If your house has voltage on the high side of the scale, you consume more energy and have a higher utility bill that another house that has lower voltage. As grids are modernized, this kind of inefficiency will all but disappear. We now have the ability to “fine tune” voltage at each electrical meter.

Strengthening the electric grid, and making it as efficient as possible, is essential for another reason, too. We are moving into an era when we use less fossil fuel and more renewable energy sources like solar and wind. These new sources do not always deliver power consistently. Their generation is dependent on changing weather conditions. To effectively utilize these renewable sources, we need a more dynamic grid that responds to changing loads and generation—while keeping the voltage stable.

We have a great opportunity now to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all by beginning to modernize the electrical grid. We can start making real progress on updating our country’s electric grid with smart devices. And, if we do this right, we can help accomplish crucial national goals: long-term energy independence and sustained economic prosperity.

Bruce Lisanti is President and CEO of MicroPlanet, a Seattle company that provides advanced energy conservation technology used in residential, commercial, and industrial environments. Follow @

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  • Melvin Goldstein

    Question: question 12 in “Thinking Physics” – page 259
    Inside a warm damp cave completely sealed off from the outside world could life flourish indefinitely?

    Answer: No life forms could flourish indefinitely. In an isolated system, entropy always increases. Life tries to push entropy in the opposite direction. When life is created, entropy decreases in the cave but nature demands a greater entropy increase offset. The cave, being sealed, would mean that entropy would reach its max, thus energy necessary to sustain and generate new life would be unavailable. Maybe we should learn a lesson from this. Available energy is mandatory. Wealth may equate to available energy. If you want to live in a nation that is prospering make sure that its available energy supply is abundant.

    Entropy is one of “Physics Foibles”