Navigant Research Blog

Resilience: Coming Soon to a Building Near You

— August 14, 2013

Resilience – defined as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change” – has long been a primary goal of the smart grid.  However, outside of data centers, which have always been optimized for physical and network resilience, this attribute rarely makes the priority list for commercial building design and operations.  A recent report by Sandia National Labs explores the drivers and obstacles for the development of resilient buildings.

One of the report’s key findings is the lack of a consensus definition of a “resilient building,” which is not surprising.  If a building is in an earthquake zone, a resilient building is one that doesn’t collapse during a major earthquake.  In addition to structural integrity, resiliency of fire and other life safety systems are also of key importance – and well understood.  But for this discussion, a resilient building is one that is designed, constructed, and operated to allow ongoing operation in the face of significant external disruptions, such as natural disasters, external system failures (i.e., power grid outages, transportation systems shutdowns, etc.), or similar threats.

Although the Sandia report was drafted before Tropical Cyclone Sandy devastated the U.S. East Coast, Sandy’s impact, especially in New York City, has focused some minds on the concept of resilient buildings.  Building designs that integrate backup power sources, tolerate flooding up to a certain level, and support other forms of infrastructure redundancy should have obvious appeal to occupiers, owners, insurers, and other stakeholders.  However, the Sandia researchers found that, as with other optional building improvements such as energy efficiency upgrades, the motivation for implementing resiliency techniques depends on demonstrably clear economic advantages.  It always comes down to the business case.

Efficiency = Resiliency

One aspect the Sandia report does not address, however, is how many emerging smart building technologies, with business cases justified by operation and/or energy savings (or regulations), might contribute resilience in commercial buildings.  Energy storage technologies, studied in the recent Navigant Research report Energy Storage in Commercial Buildings are likely key to building resilience, especially when combined with in-building microgrid technologies (discussed in another recent report, Direct Current Distribution Networks).  It stands to reason that a more efficient building, including basic envelope efficiency, HVAC and lighting systems, and potentially integrating generation sources such as solar or combined heat and power, has the potential to be more resilient in the face of external disasters.

Will resilience be a major focus for smart commercial building construction and retrofit?  Given how much time and regulatory pressure it has taken for energy efficiency to be taken seriously, I would not hold my breath, but including resiliency benefits in the business case for other smart technologies could be a savvy move.


LEDs Still Gaining Efficiency

— August 14, 2013

The remarkable efficiency gains achieved by LED lighting over the past few years has led some within the industry to doubt that improvements can continue much longer.  A recently published paper in Applied Physics Letters, however, shows that the scientific understanding behind LED technology continues to improve at the same time that manufacturers continue to improve the efficiency of their LED modules.

In the paper, researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute identify the cause of a common LED challenge known as “efficiency droop,” where the efficiency of the light source decreases as a higher current is applied.  Efficiency droop is especially troublesome for lighting applications, which compared to other uses for LEDs like signage or flat-screen monitors, requires higher-lumen outputs.  While the new research does not immediately make available a commercially viable solution, it does indicate that efficiency gains won’t be slowing down anytime soon.  The study shows that as current increases in an LED, an electric field develops that pushes electrons away from the region where those electrons would otherwise produce light.  Now that researchers and engineers have a more accurate understanding of this effect, they will be better able to design systems to minimize it.

Drums Unstopping

Announcements of ever-higher LED efficiencies seem to come out weekly.  In a July 23 press release, Seoul Semiconductor announced its new 5630C as the world’s most efficient mid-power LED package at 180 lumens per watt (lm/W).  On July 29, Shanghai-based Pozeen launched a retrofit kit for recessed lighting fixtures that can achieve an overall efficiency of 110 lm/W.  These come on top of regular announcements by companies such as Cree and Philips that LED chips and packaged LED modules are reaching ever new heights.  Cree announced in February that its R&D department had made a demonstration chip that achieved 276 lm/W.  Philips announced in April that it had developed a prototype tube LED that delivers 200 lm/W.

None of those recent advancements were achieved with the benefit of the Rensselaer study, indicating that the steady drumbeat of product announcements will keep sounding for at least the next several years.  Anyone doubting that science will keep pushing the envelope toward LEDs’ theoretical limits will be sorely disappointed.


Urban Arteries to Get Even More Clogged

— August 14, 2013

For those who would like to spend even more time behind the wheel, the future looks bright.  According to a new study from the International Energy Agency, the increase in urbanization across the globe will further overload roads and increase emissions.

With apologies to Dickens, the “A Tale of Renewed Cities” report finds that road transport kilometers from passenger and freight travel will double between 2010 and 2050.  Despite improvements in vehicle fuel economy, all of that extra driving will increase transportation emissions by 80% during that period, which is not a promising statistic for people who plan on inhaling on a regular basis.


(Source: International Energy Agency)

The IEA’s report includes a plan to mitigate some of the impacts of increased congestion.  The report recommends the following “avoid, shift and improve” policies:

  • “Avoid” policies address transport energy use and emissions by slowing travel growth via city planning and travel demand management.
  • “Shift” policies enable and encourage movements from motorised travel to more energy efficient modes, such as public transit, walking, cycling and freight rail. 
  • “Improve” policies can reduce energy consumption and emissions of all travel modes through the introduction of efficient fuels and vehicles.

The IEA estimates that between now and 2050 implementing these strategies could lower global spending on vehicles, fuels, and transport infrastructure by as much as $70 trillion.

The “shift” policies – moving people out of cars and into buses and onto bikes – are the toughest for lawmakers to implement.  Increasing funding for mass transit is tough politically in the United States and other countries that have restricted federal spending due to reduced revenues.  While bicycles (including electric ones, as documented in Navigant Research’s report, Electric Bicycles) are growing in popularity with consumers, policymakers haven’t been keen historically on providing rebates on two-wheel purchases.

One of the IEA’s underlying  assumptions that contributes to their dire outlook for urban commuters is that the number of vehicles on the road is expected to double between 2010 and 2050. Navigant Research, however, expects that vehicle sales will plateau in some regions, as was highlighted during our recent webinar on Peak Cars.

One of the travel management technologies that will help to relieve congestion is the implementation of intelligent traffic systems, as described in Navigant Research’s 2013 Smart Cities report.  According to the report, by 2020 spending on smart traffic technologies will grow to $5.5 billion globally.

The government of China is considering a more immediate and radical response to rising congestion.  China Car Times has reported that eight Chinese cities are considering implementing car buying limits to slow down the addition of vehicles onto city streets.


EPRI’s Chhaya: Smart EV Charging Ready to Launch

— August 13, 2013

Getting grid operators and automakers – powerful industries that have historically been staunchly independent with little reason for dialog – to work together on the integration of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) into the smart grid has been the mission of Sunil Chhaya, the senior manager of OEM PHEV programs for electric transportation at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), since 2007.  I spoke with Chhaya to get a preview of his upcoming talk on the topic of the smart charging of PEVs at Plug-In 2013.  The annual Plug-In event, which this year runs from September 30 to October 3 in San Diego, provides a unique opportunity to connect with the leading figures in the PEV, utility, and charging infrastructure sectors.  Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Navigant Research: Where is vehicle charging occurring and why is it important to develop technologies that can make it smart?

Sunil Chhaya: Both EPRI research and actual operational data from automakers indicate that 60% to 70% of charging occurs at home, which means that anything that you can do to shift load when the cars are parked overnight will be beneficial to the power grid.  While low-power charging at 120 volts (or 3 kilowatts or less) is not a significant burden, at rates above 4-6 kilowatts, the potential impact on local power distribution gets interesting.  At 8-10 kilowatts, it becomes necessary to pay careful attention to how it is managed.  This means you need to have direct communications between utilities and the vehicles.  We are working on how to leverage technology that exists on the utility side and how to connect that to telematics and other systems in the vehicles at as little incremental cost to the vehicle owner as possible.

NR: What information is it necessary to share and what standards are being developed to enable the power grid and vehicles to communicate?

SC: We have been focused on enabling sharing of the electricity rates (the cost to customers), as well as the signals from utilities that can enable peak load reduction to avoid distribution system stress or critical peaks.  The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has been active since 2008 in creating a family of recommended practices around information and method of communications, in the form of the J2931 (HomePlug GreenPHY) and J2836/J2847 family of standards.  There has been coordination between SAE, JARI (Japan Automotive Research Institute), and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) that will allow harmonizing of global standards.  In terms of physical media, we have been working on power line communications (PLC) and the HomePlug GreenPHY standards.  HomePlug GreenPHY is already starting to happen in PEVs in the United States and Europe, as every PEV (whether charging from an AC or DC supply) in Europe and every company that offers DC charging in the United States on its vehicles has to include it along with the SAE Combo Plug standard.

There is also interest in taking advantage of the Smart Energy Profile 2 (SEP2), which uses Internet-based protocols so that the communications protocol can ride on any Internet network, whether it’s wired  or wireless, including Wi-Fi, Ethernet, HomePlug, and ZigBee.  SEP2-compliant equipment can connect using any Internet connection, including cable broadband or wide-area wireless, and ultimately down to the PEV.

NR: Can a single connection be used for all grid-to-vehicle communications, or are there benefits to using one system or another?

SC: The utility industry is diverse, and in many cases, utilities are just getting started in implementing many of these standards.  This means that a one-size-fits-all (for a single communications path) approach is not practical.  We recommend an all-of-the-above approach that is open standards-based, so that utilities can choose whatever interoperable technology works best for them that can be bridged to their existing technology.  The customer doesn’t care about the underlying technology; they just want it to work.

NR: What has been the progress to date on developing fully functioning smart charging systems?

SC: We are now in our sixth year of working with car companies on pilot projects.  We have been working with Ford, GM, and Chrysler on implementing the standards-based technologies.  Soon we will begin working on a large pilot with 300 PEVs in a commercial fleet that is implementing SEP2 and HomePlug GreenPHY and connecting to AMI (advanced metering infrastructure, used in smart meters), broadband, and telematics systems.  We are starting a project with eight of the major automakers to unify the communications approach across the industry.

NR: Most EV supply (charging) equipment (EVSE) is already smart, so why is communicating with the vehicles necessary?

SC: Utilities like EVSE because they are fixed and are easy to manage by utilities or anybody.  But a link is missing here – this ignores the customer, and the customer is the one who has to drive someplace.  The system has to have the customer’s input so that charging can occur in a timely manner while factoring in grid stress.  Some charging stations allow for immediate charging, which may require customers paying a higher electricity rate.  The simplest approach is to let the customer set up his/her preferences in the car.  We are seeing most automakers enabling this feature.

NR: Are utilities ready to enable the smart charging of any PEV?

SC: Utilities have had traditional pricing tariffs for PEVs and the demand response programs primarily targeting commercial and industrial (C&I) customers.  We are now starting to see action, as requests for proposals are being issued for developing load management programs based on open standards such as OpenADR.  Many utilities have been piloting smart charging for some time.  They are learning what scales, what is cost-effective, and what gets the job done.  Utilities are taking a holistic approach, determining that perhaps the responsibility of whether only to manage just the charging of the car, or also manage consumption at the household level in the form of the kilowatts that are being consumed.  They are still developing the programs that enable the customers to have the final say in how this is orchestrated.


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