Blackouts can cost over a hundred billion dollars every year, a pain point shared mostly by businesses. Aside from destructive surges, brownout conditions represent a special hazard to computers and other electronics, in the form of system crashes, freeze-ups, lost data and downtime. And brownouts can actually cause more damage to sensitive electronic equipment than transient voltage surges.
During the summer months especially, reports of blackouts and brownouts seem to be routine as utilities experience overloads as a result of spikes in energy consumption to power increasing daily energy needs. Air conditioning and refrigeration systems are often cited as the biggest energy consumption culprits, running longer to compensate for higher temperatures.
As seen from the power outages this summer in the Mid-Atlantic states and in India, an energy overload to strained utilities and subsequent blackout to vulnerable parts of the grid can cause a cascade of utility failure. This is all the more reason for utilities to implement demand response management schemes to help keep electricity service reliable for homes and businesses preparing for summer power outages.
In the past, demand response management would typically involve utilities calling the biggest power users and asking them to decrease their energy use during peak periods of demand. Today, technologies are available to automate demand response and relieve the strain on the grid to reduce the likelihood of a power outage. Automated demand reduction technologies, such as time-sensitive energy pricing or automated load shedding, have been successful incentives for utilities to work with consumers looking to cut costs and reduce energy consumption.
When power-reducing methods are maximized, renewable energy technologies as additional energy sources can further augment the power mix for cheaper, more reliable power. Users on the grid who also harvest energy from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar or water can benefit from storing energy in a battery backup system throughout the day during off-peak hours to be used when utilities are most costly — during peak demand periods — or during periods when the grid goes down.
This grid-interactive or “grid hybrid” approach reduces dependence on the utility-provided energy when the grid’s up, and (with the right power conversion and management technologies in place) can switch over to off-grid power from on-site renewable and other energy sources when the grid is down. Such grid-interactive systems can stand alone during power outages, operating as full off-grid systems. This helps alleviate strain on the grid, allowing utilities to provide consistent, reliable service to its consumers during high-demand periods.
Demand response management and net metering schemes are options utilities can offer to businesses or homeowners to guard against the costly effects of power outages and shortages this summer. Since grid-interactive technologies give energy consumers the independence from the grid during peak usage times as well as dependability during power outages, it is like offering two systems in one.
Author: Mark Cerasuolo manages strategic brand marketing at OutBack Power, a designer and manufacturer of balance-of-system components for renewable and other energy applications. Cerasuolo’s prior experience includes senior marketing roles with leading brands in electrical and electronics products, including Leviton Manufacturing, Harman International and Bose Corp., as well as work with the Consumer Electronics Association. More recently he served as marketing lead for Washington State’s Department of Commerce. OutBack Power is Washington State-based manufacturer of power centers, inverters, chargers, controls and installation hardware for renewable energy systems.