Better Batteries Stabilize the Electric Grid

By Alyssa
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By Catherine Bolgar

Energy storage for the electric grid is taking off as the technology improves and battery prices fall. The global capacity of storage connected to the grid is expected to grow to 15-fold to 21 gigawatt hours this year, compared with 2015.

Energy storage can take many forms: freezing ice, then using a fan to blow over it and cool a building, replacing air conditioning; melting salt, then splashing water on it to create steam that powers a turbine; compressing air or other substances; pumping water up a hill behind a hydroelectric dam; flywheels; rechargeable flow batteries that use liquids; and solid-state batteries.

“There are so many ways to store energy. All are viable in their own way. All have applications and scale that they are suited for,” says Matt Roberts, executive director of the Energy Storage Association, a Washington, D.C.-based industry group. “The lion’s share being installed today is lithium-ion batteries.”

Industrial sites may use energy storage, often in the form of batteries, in order to reduce their peak power demand and cut their electricity bill by two-thirds to three-quarters, he says.

Most storage, though, is for controlling the frequency on the grid—60 Hertz in North America and 50 Hz elsewhere, which is achieved when supply and demand for electricity are in sync. If there is too much supply, substation transformers may be damaged; too much demand can cause brownouts.

Traditionally, the fluctuations in supply and demand have been smoothed out by peaking power plants, often fueled by natural gas. However, they may take three to five minutes to react, Mr. Roberts says. “In that time, the entire thing could swing in the other direction. Using a natural-gas plant for frequency control is like using a club for a surgical procedure.”

By contrast, battery storage can react in 100 milliseconds or less, says Andreas Ulbig, research associate at the Power Systems Lab of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) and co-founder of Adaptricity, a Zurich start-up that simulates active distribution grids. “Batteries are able to fill the gap with rapid response for balancing out renewables or reacting to any change in grid operations.”

In Europe, ancillary services—regulating frequency—from conventional sources and batteries get paid the same, he says. But in the U.S., the PJM Interconnection, which coordinates wholesale electricity in 13 Midwestern and mid-Atlantic states, pays battery owners a bonus for providing frequency control because they are so much faster, and therefore higher quality.

Under the PJM system, “a gas-powered plant chasing the grid signal can run at 99.9% efficiency 100% of the time,” Mr. Roberts says. “It means more profits, a better emissions profile, and less wasted energy on the grid.”

Energy storage is key to making smart grids and super grids work by balancing fluctuations over wider areas, using automation and modeling.

However, “most modeling systems are based on outdated asset class systems”—electricity generators such as power plants and photovoltaic arrays—Mr. Roberts says. “An energy storage system doesn’t generate electricity, but when it pushes energy onto the grid it looks like a provider. But it can also look like it’s absorbing energy. Current simulation systems aren’t sophisticated enough. They still model for the power plant spoke-and-hub model of the 1970s.

Models and simulations are improving. ETHZ and Adaptricity have created algorithms that allow battery owners to provide ancillary services that use less battery energy capacity while providing the same control services, Dr. Ulbig says. “It shows that smaller batteries can provide the same ancillary services as those with higher energy capacity.” Energy capacity is the biggest factor in the cost of batteries, so being able to get the same results with smaller batteries can cut costs significantly.

The importance of energy storage is set to grow as renewables make up a bigger share of the energy mix. The way that conventional power plants generate electricity, with gigantic rotating masses, creates slower deviations in frequency. With more renewables on the grid, “changes in grid frequency may happen faster. So it will be particularly useful to have faster frequency control,” Dr. Ulbig says.

Energy storage is set to grow, because it can “create a grid that integrates renewables, is flexible and resilient,” Mr. Roberts says. “It’s more cost effective and valuable.”

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

 

 

 

 

Leveraging “Design For Manufacturing” for More Sustainable Buildings

By Patrick
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This blog is adapted from an AIA presentation on Technology and Practice presented in partnership with the UNC Charlotte College of Architecture in October 2016.

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for More #Sustainable Buildings

construction

Design for Manufacturing is a process whereby designers consider the impact of manufacturing processes in the way they design buildings.

Large components—whether large concrete panels or whole modular rooms for an apartment building—might be completed within a factory environment and delivered to a jobsite where they are connected to MEP systems.

To be successful in this approach, designers must work with building component manufacturers to understand their capabilities and design a construction approach that accounts for the logistics of getting modules to the jobsite and installed.

By considering how to optimize factory processes and then most efficiently assembling the modular elements in the field, designers can leverage strategies that greatly eliminate construction waste.

With reduced waste, building owners can adjust their budgets and apply significant savings from improved processes to better materials and overall more sustainable buildings.

The Two Paths to Reducing Construction Costs

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Reducing Construction Costs

Construction projects typically see amounts of waste near 30% due to redundant rework and inefficiency. Without this waste, building owners could achieve significant project savings and reinvest in higher quality materials that are less harmful to the environment.

There are two potential approaches to reducing costs in construction:

  • AEC professionals can continually look for cheaper materials and labor to control construction costs. For example, vinyl is a very popular building material, largely because it is inexpensive compared to wood and other solutions. Yet PVC is made from chlorine salt using lots of electricity in a very environmentally unfriendly process.
  • Alternatively, AEC professionals can change their processes. By adopting a Design for Manufacturing approach, fabricators can automate many of the repetitive tasks that have to be done to produce a building. Fewer, albeit more highly skilled, workers can manage building component production in a safe, factory environment.

The latter approach may require a greater upfront investment, but the return on that investment can be recouped through the dramatic reductions in waste. Those savings can, in turn, be applied to investment in more sustainable building solutions.

Reinvesting Savings in Sustainability

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Green projects are projected to grow significantly in the years ahead. At present, buildings consume 70% of all electricity in the United States, reports the U.S. Green Building Council. There are numerous ways to reduce this electric consumption, but most AEC professionals consider building products rather than building processes as a solution.

Designers’ strategies for achieving sustainable design might range from making tighter envelopes that require less heating and cooling, adding solar panels, using smart lighting controls, to numerous other initiatives.

In the UK and some other countries, laws limit buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions. In some parts of the U.S.—namely, California—there are some emissions limitations set by law, but most green building is done in the name of incentives such as LEED or the 2030 Challenge for Sustainability, among other programs.

But for owners and AEC professionals that truly care about green buildings, it is important to also consider a clean AEC process.

A Design for Manufacturing approach to AEC could potentially lead to cleaner processes than traditional onsite construction.

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for More #Sustainable Buildings

Related Resources

Design for Fabrication Industry Solution Experience

Making Cities Bigger and Better

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

Aerial view of Albaicin , Granada City Spain
By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, the United Nations Human Settlements Program forecasts. Meanwhile cities themselves are growing, with the number of megacities—those with populations greater than 10 million—expected to hit 41 by 2030, up from 28 today and just 10 in 1990.

The challenge is how to make sprawling, dense cities livable, sustainable and efficient for residents. But priorities for livability aren’t easy to define.

“If you have an older population, then things they see as priorities may be different than in a city with a huge number of young people,” says Stephen Hammer, manager of climate policy for the World Bank Group in Washington, DC. “If you have mass migration of people from the countryside, then the creation of economic opportunities and housing services may be at top of the list. For a period of time, that will be the priority, and as people begin to settle in, ideas will shift about what makes it a desirable place. It may be cleaner air, clean water, access to energy services or access to employment.”

Urban planners do their best to ensure services and amenities like transportation, sanitation, green spaces and more. However, many megacities are growing faster than city services, as informal housing springs up to accommodate the flood of new arrivals.

“People will go to great trouble to get to cities, because there are opportunities there in a way there never were in the countryside,” says Robert Bruegmann, professor emeritus of art history, architecture and urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of the book “Sprawl: A Compact History.”

For poor families, that might require living in a slum. However, “there is self-organization to these things,” he says of slums. “You have to be able to at least wheel a cart through to all the residences. You can’t have a living space that’s inaccessible. Without any formal government, mechanisms to maintain access emerge all over the world.”

Residential buildingWhat hasn’t worked is tearing down the slums to build high-rise housing. “There is not enough public money to house everybody,” Dr. Bruegmann says. “The number of units built rarely equals the number torn down. The current accepted wisdom is ‘we’re going to have to let people do self-build housing.’”

Informal “does not equal slum,” cautions Khaled El-Araby, professor of transportation planning and traffic engineering at Ain Shams University in Cairo. The Egyptian capital ranks at No. 17 among megacities, according to Demographia, with an estimated population of 15.6 million. The informal areas are simply “built outside formal planning and building regulations of the government,” he says. “In a sense, this is not always bad. When you have a dense, compact city such as Cairo, trips between work and home usually are relatively short. They have contained economic activities there, like workshops and commerce. From an urban-planning perspective, they are OK, but we want higher building standards and a better level of access to basic services like electricity, water, sewage and transportation.”

The urban core of Cairo is very dense, with an estimated 15,000 inhabitants per square kilometer. The government has been building new planned cities to accommodate population growth, including a planned new capital city. However, less than 10% of Cairo’s population currently lives in the new cities, Dr. El-Araby notes.

While the planned cities extend mostly east and west of Cairo into the desert, apart from social/economic housing projects supported by the government, Cairo is experiencing a chronic shortage of affordable housing. So, many people opt to move to informal settlements around the urban core of the city, along the Nile—mostly on prime agricultural land, Dr. El-Araby says.

street top view“We cannot relocate around 60% of Cairo’s population. We have to make an assessment of the informal areas that are unsafe and cannot access basic services and relocate those people to viable, serviced areas. For others, we just have to address problems like controlling expansions and residential densities and improving access to services like transportation,” he says.

Future technology might solve some of megacities’ problems. “If we can kick the carbon-fuel habit, then a key part of the argument for public transportation goes out the window,” Dr. Bruegmann says. “The issue should never be which is the best settlement pattern.

It should be how do people want to live, and then how to make that possible without doing damage to everyone else and to the environment.”

Developing countries may be able to leapfrog to new technology that makes some current problems moot. Just as one no longer needs a landline to telephone, “we may move to more decentralized energy systems, like solar panels on roof tops,” without a need to run electrical lines everywhere, Dr. Hammer says.

Technology also is aiding urban planners. Analysis of data from sensors and city systems gives decision-makers a better understanding of real use and needs and help them manage and optimize services. Modeling technology can simulate “what if” scenarios.

The World Bank developed a tool called CURB, which uses local data to provide tailored analysis that tells city officials how their decisions may affect greenhouse-gas emissions. Such applications and tools, he says, can help cities “understand which interventions can deliver the biggest bang for the buck.”

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock



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