Navigant Research Blog

Lessons from the Blackout Bowl

— February 4, 2013

Source: Energy.govIt’s safe to say that the electrical systems supervisor is not the person that Superdome officials wanted the world’s media to be talking about the morning after the Super Bowl.  For 34 dimly lit minutes, starting early in the third quarter, that person’s competence was one of the many things that the more than 1 billion people watching the game were discussing.

There’s a lot we don’t know about exactly what happened when the lights went out on the Super Bowl.  But here’s what we do know:

Not all the lights went out: One-third of the lights stayed on throughout that excruciating half hour.  That probably means that the uninterruptable power supply system worked as planned.  The only problem was that the UPS system was sized to one-third the necessary power needs of the stadium.

The lights weren’t the only things going out: The CBS announcers lost power, as apparently did the top-level cameras and the coaches’ communications systems.  This points to a failure in wiring the building’s critical circuits.  By far the most important thing to keep going in the case of an emergency (after emergency lighting and the PA system, both of which worked) is the power to the television operations.  Television is what pays everyone’s bills, so that should have priority over other systems.  It did not.  Likewise, the fact that one team’s communications systems continued to work (the 49ers) and the other’s didn’t (the Ravens), showed that someone didn’t think very clearly when designing the critical circuit design.

LEDs still shone: If you looked carefully at the scenes of the blackened sections of the stadium seating, you could see that the emergency stair lights were all still lit.  Likewise, the exterior colored lighting that bathes the outside walls of the stadium in light was still working.  That’s because it’s made up of LEDs, which consume a fraction of a percentage of the power required by the sodium high intensity discharge (HID) lamps used for the rest of the stadium lighting.  Additionally, the sodium HIDs, once they went out, took another 20 minutes to regain their full luminosity.  LEDs, on the other hand, require no warm-up time and sip so little electricity that managing the current for them is a much less complex task.

Engineers and Repairmen

Based on this knowledge, here are three important lessons learned from the power management debacle that was Super Bowl XLVII:

  • Right-sizing a UPS backup microgrid is about more than just installing a bunch of generators.  The art of designing a backup microgrid is about balancing the maximum number of diesel gensets with the minimal amount of load.  Physical space for backup gensets is almost always limited (especially in a flood plain like New Orleans, where generators have to be placed – at a minimum – on the second floor).  Thus, keeping the blackout from happening was more of a failure of critical circuit design than of generator management.
  • Energy efficiency counts more than backup power in times of emergency.  The failure of the sodium HID lights and the long warm-up time they require would have been solved by energy efficient LED lights, which also would have reduced the load on the UPS system.
  • Electrical design engineers are always more valuable than electric repairmen.  Designing the critical circuits to be prioritized during a power failure is a job worth doing right, as we saw on Sunday evening.  The designers of the Superdome’s UPS circuitry got some things very right: the success of the emergency lighting system kept the crowd from panicking.  But the problems with the broadcasting and team communications systems showed that not everything was so well-planned.

Glasgow Gets Smart City Cash

— February 1, 2013

Source: Wikimedia CommonsGlasgow has been named the winner of a £24 million ($38 million) prize to fund the U.K.’s Future Cities Demonstrator project.   Its proposal was chosen from 30 city projects submitted for the final round of the competition run by the government-funded Technology Strategy Board.  The level of enthusiasm for the competition reflects a growing interest in smart cities across the United Kingdom.  For example, Bristol has a wide portfolio of smart energy  and digital government projects, and Birmingham has launched its own smart city program.

Glasgow’s proposal is focused on the development of a series of integrated projects spanning health, transport, energy, and public safety.  As with many smart city projects there is a dual goal of improving the quality of life of citizens and boosting the local economy.  The government hopes that the award will help U.K. businesses to develop “integrated urban solutions” that can be exported around the globe.  The proposal for a Glasgow City Management System echoes many of the key themes we have explored around integrated city platforms and the better use of city data.  Glasgow is looking to integrate “urban services and infrastructures (transport, water, energy), using multiple data sources,” and to make that data available through a City Observatory.  It also plans to integrate low carbon energy systems in a holistic view of the city’s “resources, infrastructure, energy demand, and investment.”

In the prize announcement, the Glasgow proposal was singled out as “a strong, local authority-led project proposal in partnership with their business and academic communities.”  Glasgow has a number of existing initiatives on which to build, in particular the Commonwealth Games, which it hosts in 2014.  The Commonwealth Games may not be in the same league as the Olympics, but as Manchester showed in 2002, it is an event that can be the springboard for a range of urban rejuvenation projects, as well as help develop civic pride and a city’s global brand.   It’s also worth noting that Glasgow has developed a comprehensive sustainability strategy.  The Sustainable Glasgow report was developed by the city, academia, and the private sector in 2010 and sets out a comprehensive vision for how Glasgow could reduce its carbon footprint by 30% over 10 years.  One of the interesting elements of both the sustainability strategy and the proposed smart city project is that they accept the serious economic and social challenges facing the city, summed up in the sad fact that Glasgow has the lowest life expectancy of any city in the United Kingdom.

It is important that the Future Cities Demonstrator address the real-world challenges of a city like Glasgow struggling with the challenge of post-industrial decline and a legacy of poor housing stock.  The project, for example, will encompass systems to help tackle fuel poverty and to look at the health issues around low life expectancy.  Other areas to be addressed include the innovative use of technology to improve the City Council’s operations and service provision, and improvements to public safety and the transport system.   Delivering on these ambitious goals would certainly place Glasgow at the forefront of smart city development.  Glasgow’s leaders should also be looking at how Amsterdam and Barcelona, for example, have been able to use smart city initiatives to boost their image across the globe.  Glasgow has the opportunity to become another important hub in the growing smart city movement.


Energy Storage Winners

— February 1, 2013

Pike Research tracks seven major market segments for the energy storage industry, ranging from well-understood and mature markets such as bulk storage to new and relatively undeveloped markets such as residential energy storage.  The three most successful markets are bulk storage, non-UPS applications for commercial buildings, and ancillary services.

The leading market segment by far is bulk storage, which is largely made up of the 160 traditional pumped storage installations that all provide load-leveling and peak-shifting services.   Bulk storage is the most technologically diverse market segment, with as many as 13 technologies represented.  Although the remaining six market segments (including ancillary services, commercial buildings, community storage, microgrids, and remote systems) will undoubtedly grow over the next several years, the fundamental issue that storage addresses is matching electricity supply with demand – exactly what bulk storage does.

This need is unlikely to change over time.  Bulk storage is here to stay.

The commercial buildings market (for non-UPS applications) is the next most active market segment, reflecting demand for energy cost management solutions from commercial and industrial customers.   This market primarily draws on thermal storage (CALMAC, Baltimore Aircoil, Cryogel, FAFCO, and Ice Energy) and NaS batteries (NGK Insulators).  Thermal storage is excluded from the chart as this is a technology that is commercial, mature, and grossly underreported.  Again, the problem that is being solved by non-UPS commercial storage is matching electricity supply with demand.  Although in this case, the party with the demand for electricity is seeking the solution.

The ancillary services market segment is a nascent market segment for the energy storage industry.   It includes diverse applications that either maintain the quality of energy on the grid or act as a reserve or backup for the grid.  Ancillary services address the problems of reliability and power quality but are one step removed from aligning supply and demand.   Growth in this segment reflects three key trends: increased volatility in load and generation, liberalization of market structures and utility attitudes, and a higher opportunity cost for delivering ancillary services using thermal generation assets such as coal and gas power plants.   In terms of technologies, as many as seven technologies totaling 207 MW were delivering ancillary services to the grid globally as of 4Q 2012.

Deployed Installations by Market Segment and Technology, World Markets: 4Q 2012

(Source: Pike Research)


Maximum Bob Explores Both Ends of the EV Market

— February 1, 2013

Source: Via MotorsThe annual Detroit Auto Show usually produces some interesting concepts and production introductions.  Away from the mainstream activity of the big name OEMs, there were a couple of new companies showing products that they are bringing to the niche market.

VIA Motors has taken some large GM trucks, removed the V8 engine and transmission, and installed batteries, an electric motor, and a smaller V6 engine.  A gas guzzler thus becomes a hybrid-electric vehicle with a zero-emissions range of about 40 miles and the capability of generating electricity in remote areas.

VLP is a startup company that had the opposite idea; the company has taken a Fisker hybrid, removed the battery and electric motor, and replaced them with a V8 engine and transmission from a Corvette.  The extra size and breathing requirements of the engine means a new hood and different bumper fascias for the front and rear, but the Fisker styling is maintained.  The buyer gets a stylish four-door vehicle with traditional American sports car performance and a familiar refueling experience.

The connection between these two companies is the well-known auto industry executive from Ford, BMW, Chrysler, and GM, Bob Lutz.  Although retired, Mr. Lutz continues to remain actively involved in the automotive industry, and he has hit on a couple of niches that have not yet been explored.  GM toyed in the past (2004) with a hybrid pickup truck with onboard electricity generation, but the vehicle’s cost premium kept sales volumes too low to make sense for an OEM.  However, a small market can be serviced by a startup company without the overhead of GM.

Fisker has produced a very attractive sports car design, but sales have been disappointing and volumes need to grow in order to support production goals.  Producing a gas-engine version is beyond the resources of Fisker, but if it can sell some extra vehicles without batteries and electric motors, that could help support the core business.

A nice concept would be to buy both vehicles and simply swap the powertrain, but unfortunately the performance requirements don’t match as nicely as that.  However, the important concept is that there is a market for hybrid versions of conventional vehicles and conventionally powered versions of vehicles designed exclusively as hybrids.  And OEMs are not necessarily the best companies to introduce them.


Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date


Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Smart Grid Practice, Smart Transportation Practice, Smart Transportation Program, Utility Innovations

By Author