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Building Energy Storage: Ice or Batteries?

Posted on 7/28/2015 9:13 AM by Mark MacCracken

Energy storage applications have taken off in the U.S. According GTM Research's debut U.S. Energy Storage Monitor report, the nation can expect up to 220 MW of new deployments by the end of 2015, and this rate of growth is expected to stay positive over the remainder of the decade.

The biggest demands for energy storage revolve around the use of the technology to offset the limitations of renewable generation. Wind and solar energy are intermittent resources. Fluctuating breezes and sunlight concealed by cloudy days limit the usefulness of renewable generation throughout the year, and energy storage is becoming an increasingly popular solution to this problem.

Extra electricity is generated when the sun is shining brightly or when turbines receive an extra push in the form of powerful, sustained gusts of wind. Energy storage provide a means of storing that power for later, and can be easily integrated into existing infrastructures thanks to their size and versatility. However, not all energy storage methods are created equal.

Batteries and thermal energy storage for buildings

Energy storage can be categorized as thermal, chemical and mechanical. In buildings, thermal (ice/water) and chemical (batteries) make the most sense. Ice and batteries are both scalable and can be used to manage demand (kW). When integrating with renewable generation, energy storage can help stabilize the grid, and avoid spikes in electricity use that are not only expensive but may lead to blackouts or brownouts. Some building owners may even opt to leave the grid entirely.

Seven ways battery energy storage meets challenges of energy security and resiliency

Battery technologies in particular are becoming increasingly accessible thanks to an innovation push from the electric car industry. Electric automobiles are ever closer to matching the performance and cost of traditional gas based vehicles, and this growth is pushing battery manufacturing to new heights. The same factories being used to develop EV batteries for vehicles are also ramping up production of storage solutions that are intended for applications beyond electric cars. Batteries are starting to become available for buildings looking to meet the challenges of energy security and resiliency. 

  1. Batteries can improve data center reliability
  2. Provide power even without a cooling load.
  3. Great for keeping lights and computers on during demand response events.
  4. May power elevators and escalators in case of an emergency.
  5. Alternative to on-site fossil fuel generators.
  6. Perfect for dispensing energy for short durations during power outages.
  7. Prices continue to drop.

Seven ways thermal energy storage delivers when it comes to facility management

While batteries are certainly receiving plenty of attention for their benefits, thermal energy storage technologies are proven to reduce peak demand around the world in over 8,000 installations. With air conditioning using up to 9% of a building’s total energy consumption, 30-40% of the peak electrical demand on a summer day and accounting for nearly a third of energy costs in commercial buildings, the savings from storing cooling is significant. Fortunately the cooling load is one of the easiest electrical loads to shift because the energy can be easily stored in the form it will be used. It would be highly inefficient and costly to store energy in a battery only to be transformed yet again to create instantaneous cooling.

  1. Storage mediums such as ice are very effectual for storing and releasing large amounts of cooling with the least possible waste, making ice storage a perfect fix for helping building owners avoid demand charges and take advantage of less costly night-time electricity. This strategy is carried out by augmenting a chiller-based cooling system with on-site thermal storage tanks that form and store ice.
  2. Thermal storage systems have great round trip efficiency with little cycle degradation.
  3. Storing cooling is the low hanging fruit. Air-conditioning is the primary culprit behind peak electricity supply problems and it is the easiest electrical load to shift.
  4. Thermal storage has good ROI. Ice storage tanks can last over 30 years.
  5. There are no disposal or fire safety issues and they are safe to put in basements.
  6. Ice storage tanks are virtually maintenance free.
  7. Thermal storage is the least expensive of all energy storage systems; 80% less expensive to install for the same kW/kWh output as batteries.

All types of energy storage are needed for a lower carbon future and any building owners planning to go with a zero energy or off-grid design will need some form of energy storage. Both batteries and thermal storage can be used for demand response events or to permanently manage demand. They can utilize less expensive off-peak energy prices and minimize use of fossil fuels by utilizing more efficient night-time electricity. Both reduce demand charges and make renewables more viable. While each has their own perks, building owners should devise an energy storage implementation strategy that best meets their building needs and budget. 

Mark MacCracken is CEO of CALMAC Manufacturing Corporation



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How to Protect Your Building from the Next Flood

Posted on 7/21/2015 12:27 PM by Tom Osborne

The nation’s vulnerability to flooding is increasing. Sea level rise, powerful ocean storms and other effects of global warming are raising the threat of catastrophic flooding in many coastal communities. Meanwhile, heavy rains have caused damaging floods in Texas and other parts of the U.S. that haven’t seen flooding of that magnitude in decades.

Even minor flood events are happening with greater frequency.The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association reported a dramatic increase in “nuisance” floods that cause inconvenience by flooding roads, homes and businesses. Minor coastal flooding that 50 years ago would have been caused by a strong hurricane, today can be caused by a high tide. 

Recently, FEMA updated the federal flood plain maps to reflect higher water levels and wider areas at risk to flood events. The changes put more non-residential buildings in designated flood zones, requiring owners to obtain flood insurance (some for the first time) and resulting in a nearly 10x increase in insurance rates. 

According to the National Flood Insurance Program, at least 25 percent of businesses that close after a flood never reopen. From 2010 to 2014, the average commercial flood claim amounted to nearly $89,000.

The high cost of flooding is driving interest in flood protection solutions. New York City, where sea levels are expected to rise more than six feet this century, recently announced it will invest $30 million in resiliency technologies, including flood barriers to protect small businesses. 

 So what can building owners do to protect their assets from a flood?  There are four basic strategies:

1) Move or build on higher ground.
2) Elevate above flood levels.
3) Build earthen barriers and levels around structures.
4) Flood proof. 

Of these strategies, dry flood proofing is the most cost effective method for urban structures, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Dry flood proofing combines measures such as barriers, seals and pumps that result in a building being water tight below flood levels. The National Flood Insurance Program, which offers flood insurance to business owners based on FEMA requirements, recognizes dry flood proofing as one way to reduce the threat of flooding and costs of insuring against damage. 

While dry flood proofing may sound like a good idea for buildings in flood prone areas, building owners and facility managers should consider several factors before beginning any flood mitigation project:

1) Economics

A benefit cost analysis is the best way to estimate the future benefits of a flood mitigation project and compare the benefits to the cost. The benefit cost ratio (BCR) is derived by dividing the projects net benefits (defined as avoided damage) by the project cost (installation, operation maintenance and insurance difference).  A BCR of less than 1.0 is not cost effective and would not be approved for federal grant funds under FEMA guidelines.

2) Functional use requirements

The current and future use of buildings must be evaluated. What are the building access requirements?  How long can business operations be interrupted and to what degree? Can flood damage be repaired and how long will it take?  Flood proofing can reduce these vulnerabilities, however relocation might be the only alternative. 

3) Occupant safety

The relationship of flood proofing options to occupant safety must be evaluated in the pre-design phase.  Floods may exceed the design capacity of flood proofing measures and pose extreme danger to building occupants. Evacuation provisions must be made for occupants. Safe access to and egress from flood proofed buildings is a critical factor in deciding which flood proofing measures are appropriate.  Access roads should remain passable long enough for flood proofing measures to be installed and for all personnel to safely evacuate the site.  

4) Flood warning time
Some flood proofing options require adequate warning time, from a few hours to days, depending on the complexity. Forecasting systems should be able to predict when a flood is imminent and which areas will be flooded. River-flood forecasts are prepared by the National Weather Service and disseminated to the public. However, many non-residential buildings are located on smaller streams that are not included in a major forecasting network. 

Building owners should contact their local emergency management agency to determine whether any active flood warning systems are in place, and work with appropriate local and state agencies to develop an adequate flood forecasting system, if needed.

5) Flood emergency operational plan

Flood emergency operational plans are highly recommended. Plans should contain information on how flood proofing measures work during and after a flood event, such as how to maintain power for equipment that requires electricity during a flood event.  

A flood emergency operational plan should do the following:

  • Establish a chain of command and assign responsibilities for anyone responsible for flood proofing measures.
  • Delineate notification procedures for all personnel.
  • Assign duties and describe the locations of flood proofing measures, installation and repair procedures.
  • Include evacuation procedures for all personnel who occupy the building and who will deploy flood proofing measures.
  • Include a periodic drill and training program to ensure all personnel understand the plan.
  • Include a schedule for regular evaluation and updates to the plan.

6) Inspection and maintenance plan

All parts of the flood proofing system should be verified, maintained and exercised for use.  At a minimum, inspection and maintenance plans should review: 

  • Wall systems, for cracks in the structure system or waterproofing coating.
  • Entire floor slab, for settlement or other cracks.
  • Openings, to clear debris and check for damage.
  • Flood panels, for damage to the panels or gaskets and to verify that proper labels are visible for location and operation.
  • Backflow and shutoff valves, to ensure they operate properly.
  • Drainage, emergency power/generator and pump systems, to make sure there is no damage to piping or debris that would prevent the pipes from draining properly.
  • Flood emergency equipment, supplies and required tools, to ensure that all required items are available in the event of a flood. 

Flood proofing does not guarantee that Mother Nature won’t prevail in the event of a flood. However, a well-thought-out flood mitigation plan in combination with flood insurance will significantly reduce the risk of flood damage for building owners and their assets.  

Tom Osborne is the owner and president of Flood Panel, LLC.



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