Intel and Ford Motor Company plan to retrofit select facilities to see if DC power can really curb their electricity consumption.
Intel will wrap the facility that houses the energy research group, part of Intel Labs in New Mexico, in a DC microgrid, according to Brian Patterson, chairman of the Emerge Alliance, an organization dedicated to popularizing DC power. Ford, meanwhile, will retrofit a building that houses both manufacturing and offices to run on DC.
In both examples, DC power will be used to run computers, datacenters, lights and likely the heating and air conditioning systems. Ford may even go farther and add manufacturing equipment to the mix. The Ford facility will also include an energy storage system from Xtreme Power. (Xtreme has racked up a number of high-profile wins for its secretive battery/storage technology, so chalk up another one here.)
DC power didn't go away after Westinghouse won the Battle of Currents 100 years ago. It just went underground. Most electrical items -- notebooks, batteries, ships, planes, electric motors -- actually run on DC. Power gets distributed across the grid as AC, but then gets converted and reduced in voltage -- often a number of times -- before it actually gets consumed. Every conversion results in a loss.
DC power advocates argue that power losses can be reduced with things like DC microgrid. With a microgrid wrapped around a large datacenter, for instance, the number of power conversions can be reduced from five or more down to two. In a datacenter alone, reducing power consumption by 10 percent to 20 percent and reducing floor space by 25 percent to 40 percent.
Solar panels, wind turbines and other distributed power technologies also produce DC power natively. By delivering solar power straight to LED lights, building owners will consume less power. The added bonus: you can also eliminate components like inverters and AC-DC converters.
"The trend toward DC is probably stronger now than at any time in the history of electricity," he said.
Patterson added that some are trying to figure out ways to convert buildings to DC without having to replace the wires. (Last year in Japan, Panasonic told me about plans for "hybrid" wired houses.)
DC is also beginning to challenge AC in high-voltage, long-distance transmission. ABB, which has planted HVDC lines in Europe and China, will help plant one in the U.S. at the Tres Amigas Superstation. Last week ABB bought a controlling interest in Validus DC Systems.
Patterson, by the way, noted that a number of lighting companies -- Acuity, Philips, Osram, etc. -- are members of the Emerge Alliance and will speak this week on how LEDs and DC can cut down power consumption at LightFair.
General Electric, meanwhile, bought DC equipment maker Lineage Power Holdings a few months ago and is working on ways to develop products to run industrial equipment on native DC.
DC. It's not just for crazy people.