April 22, 2021
With the celebration of Earth Day this week, there has been a lot of talk about climate change and how the Stay at Home movement is making a difference to the environment. It has been an interesting forced experiment, to get an idea of what our world would look like if we could instantly shut down. Although emissions have been reduced significantly with less vehicles on the road and less large buildings and factories being utilized there is concern that once things are back to normal carbon emissions will rise again to their previous levels. We may even see an initial spike from over-time operations, in an effort to get back up to speed.
A serious effort will have to be made by everyone to keep carbon levels low. With buildings and their construction causing 36% of global energy use (according to the UN Environment Program), there is a major opportunity for change if buildings implement new environmental strategies and technology.
Major cities are implementing Green Building Laws that require buildings to meet certain carbon emission standards, New York City’s Climate Mobilization Act requires buildings to have a 40% decrease in carbon emissions from 2005 and Toronto requires all new and existing buildings to meet certain versions of the Toronto Green Standard.
At Cence we see the intense need for cleaner air, and we are passionate about the movement to reduce carbon emissions through technology. Our approach aims to help new and existing buildings reduce their energy consumption immediately by targeting three key areas: power distribution, sensor systems, and building automation.
A large portion of the energy in-efficiency in buildings stems from outdated power distribution approaches. Through our own lab testing, we have seen that simple measures can be taken to dramatically reduce electricity consumption. By Implementing a low cost DC (direct current) micro-grid system we can eliminate the need to convert AC to DC electricity at every power point or light fixture. Instead we install a single, ultra high-efficiency AC-DC converter and distribute that DC power to all of the DC loads in the entire space (LED lights, certain HVAC units, battery powered devices, computers, televisions, etc.). This automatically reduces electricity consumption by about 20%. We also ensure that the power factor of this conversion is as close to perfect as possible, which decreases the energy consumption by another 20% on average. Together these two approaches can reduce power consumption for DC devices by nearly 40%, and that will be instantly reflected in energy bills.
Eliminating the conversion at each light fixture also allows for LED bulbs to live up to their full lifetime potential, reducing the amount of electronic waste created. When an LED fixture or bulb goes bad, usually the actual LED elements are still well below their end-of-life, rather it’s the AC-DC converter electronics that fail due to the heat that’s generated (from their inherent inefficiencies). For those engineers reading, usually it’s the cheap electrolytic capacitor that fails first, but we end up throwing the whole bulb or driver away.
A DC micro-grid system can easily be retrofitted into most buildings or spaces, and can make use of the existing wiring and fixtures. It doesn’t have to be all the power in the building, but even if it’s just used for lighting, that’s up to 40% savings on lighting bills. To take everything a step further, we’ve created our micro-grid with IoT (Internet of Things) capabilities, so that controls can be based on sensor readings. Our approach is to use low-cost wireless sensors to stick with the objective of fast and easy installation. Senors come working out of the box and are simply stuck on walls using a non-destructive temporary adhesive. If you install a DC lighting system, make sure to look for either PoE (Power over Ethernet) based systems or systems that use existing wiring and fixtures, also look for wireless sensors to decrease installation cost and time.
Don’t leave your data on the table! The data collected from the intelligent DC micro-grid and sensors is tracked using a web-based dashboard. This allows for easy access to all of the building’s energy usage trends to make informed decisions about how to avoid waste and carbon emissions. Over time the software will learn from your collected data and provide informed insights on how to reduce your energy usage.
The software also allows you to control any device powered by the micro-grid remotely, meaning lights and HVAC can be shut off during downtimes even when the building is vacant.
Having a DC micro-grid in place, means that you are ready for a low-cost solar installation in the future. Solar panels output DC power, and typically that DC power is converted into AC through a device called an inverter. A good chunk of the cost of Solar installations comes from the AC inverter, by eliminating this piece from the system, the cost of solar is drastically reduced, and the payback period on your investment is shortened. This also means that your business or home is ready for battery storage (which is also DC), so that when these technologies are more financially viable they can be easily implemented.
Our version of the DC micro-grid system is called Cence LVDC. It’s a three piece system that consists of an intelligent DC micro-grid, a wireless sensor network, and a web-based control and analytics platform with an integrated digital twin.