How to Get Off the Grid

By Mike Giangrave, PE, Principal and Director of Electrical Engineering

We are experiencing a renaissance within the electrical engineering industry related to high performance design and renewable technologies. While our discipline historically has participated in elements of building energy reduction and renewable energy, the heavy lifting has traditionally been done by the HVAC and water management systems.  However, with the advancement of LED lighting, advanced lighting control, web based interfaces, solar PV, microgrid, and battery storage and peak shaving technologies we are finding more and better opportunities for improved building performance in our electrical system designs. 

Electrical engineers and lighting consultants have been consistently challenged with each update of state energy codes in which lighting power budgets are trimmed lower, and control requirements intensify. However, with fluorescent lamps essentially now all but phased out, we are finding that the near universal use of LED light sources is not only meeting these new code budgets, but significantly besting them.  The benefit is that stricter codes have driven the lighting industry to produce ever more efficient light sources. Similarly, the control of lighting is dictated heavily by energy codes which continue to intensify with each new code cycle. The response to this again has been an onslaught of new lighting control technologies by industry leaders as well as innovative startup companies.  We are incorporating new wireless control systems that utilize digitally addressable sensors in light fixtures, occupancy and vacancy sensors, daylight sensors, and smart switches and dimmers enabling individual control of lighting fixtures, and reconfigure zoning via programming in lieu of expensive infrastructure modifications. 

Although not a new technology, battery storage is increasingly finding its way into the built environment on many of our projects. This goes well beyond the traditional use of battery storage for UPS systems and as a complement to photovoltaic systems where batteries are charged during the day to help offset energy when the sun is not out. We are incorporating battery systems in our designs to shave peak building load directly contributing to offset grid power.  Battery technology for the building industry has been aided by innovations from technology companies sprung from Silicon Valley. The advancement of lithium ion batteries has enabled these companies to produce scalable, compact modules that are able to be located within buildings and also at exterior locations. As costs continue to come down and efficiency dramatically increases on large scale battery systems, we expect this technology to become more affordable for high performing buildings, and especially to help with the zero net enrgy mandate.

It is an exciting time for electrical engineers right now and I know we all look forward to the next few years of advancement in these technologies and continued integration into our designs.