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Peak Power Developing a Second Hump Because of Computers

Michael Kanellos: October 16, 2008, 9:25 AM
Because of big screen TVs and home computers, utilities are seeing another peak power problem evolve. Traditional peak power hours -- the time during the day when power demand shoots up -- run from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm, according to Andrew Tang, senior director, smart energy web, at Pacific Gas & Electric. Air conditioning begins to ramp up and people start heading for malls and home. On some unfortunate days, brownouts occur. But utilities are now seeing a second surge after the 7:00 pm drop in demand; it runs from about 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm, he said. That's when people head toward the electronic entertainment devices. (See: Atomization of the American family.) "It is so much a peak as it is a plateau," he said, adding that "8:00 pm is kind of a recent phenomenon." The 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm plateau is also "reasonably close" to the 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm peak. This new geographical monument on the daily power consumption curve, of course, is becoming a problem that utilities will have to solve. Providing power during the peak hours is already a costly proposition. Approximately 10 percent of the existing generating capacity only gets used about 50 hours a year: Most of the time, that expensive capital equipment sits idle waiting for a crisis. (Tang will also speak at our Greentech Innovations End-to-End Electricity conference taking place November 17 and 18.) Some of the efforts to fix this are already underway. Panasonic and other TV manufacturers are all working to reduce the power consumption in LCD and plasma TVs while Intel and the PC crew are cranking down computer power consumption. Sharp, in fact, showed off a 26-inch prototype LCD TV that consumes 40 watts of power and runs on solar panels at Ceatec in Tokyo recently. Utilities are also figuring out ways to deliver their own resources more effectively. In California, for instance, plug-in hybrid cars would allow PG&E to better deploy energy from wind farms. Wind blows at night here often. If demand doesn't exist, it gets dumped. If thousands or even millions of drivers had their cars plugged in, they could refuel on cheap power in the wee hours. Plug-in cars, however, could also create problems with peak power, he added. Most people will try to plug-in as soon as they get home or at work. Thus, the utility is working with companies to regulate charging time. You might plug in at 6:30 pm, but actual charging might not begin until after midnight. Tang remains a bit of a skeptic of using plug-ins to provide power to the grid during peak times. The grid simply wasn't designed to accommodate power delivery from millions of comparatively small batteries. To work effectively, parking structures will have to aggregate power from a number of car batteries and even then it will remain a challenge. And here's another issue with plug-in cars. Consumers will have a natural tendency to plug-in wherever they go to top-off their batteries. Car makers, though, are worried that the large number of charges that will inflict on a battery -- close to 1,000 times a year if you plug in at home and work -- will prematurely age the battery. "Car makers hate the concept" of cars feeding the grid, he said.

SPI08, Pt. 2: BIPV Offers Reasons to be Cheerful

Eric Wesoff: October 16, 2008, 3:29 AM
Today is the last day of exhibits at Solar Power International, the United States’ largest solar show, and as mentioned previously, the place is bustling and the mood is cautiously optimistic. Here's one reason for that optimism – Suntech’s Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) business is worth more than $100 million. BIPV  was not really a category a few years ago. Today Suntech is doing big business in this emerging solar sector along with smaller firms like Lumeta and Open Energy. BIPV has been a notoriously difficult product to sell. Most people understand the value in BIPV but establishing a sales channel has proven daunting. Now Suntech and others seem to have it figured out. Rather than work with traditional PV panel installers, the BIPV manufacturers are “bringing product in through hundreds of residential roofing contractors,??? said Leonard May, the Managing director of BIPV products at Suntech. “We make a solar panel for the people in the roofing business.??? Suntech’s BIPV products fall into the following categories:
  • Residential – Suntech’s “Just Roof??? product actually helps form the residential roof. The company’s residential roof tile forms the skin of the roof with the help of Eagle Roofing, the nations largest concrete roofing tile supplier.
  • Commercial Flat-Roof BIPV.
  • Architectural – PV for the sides of buildings, skylights, and overhead glazing. According to May of Suntech, architectural applications are “the most difficult sales channel??? with a “much longer sales cycle and customers resistant to standardization.???
Open Energy, another player in BIPV, is a bulletin-board traded stock funded by The Quercus Trust. According to CFO Aidan Shields, Open Energy (like Suntech) is working with Eagle Roofing. The company has a market cap between $12 to $14 million and expects 2009 to be a good year. Not bad for a sector that didn’t really exist until a few years ago.