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November 29, 2011 -
Renewable-energy systems are making inroads into existing buildings and new facility construction. When properly planned and integrated into a facility, these systems offer engineering and maintenance managers a means of improving their facilities' energy performance.
Without that planning, managers are likely to quickly find these systems — including solar hot-water and electric systems, wind-turbine systems, and geothermal systems — either underperform or are incompatible with facility operations. In some cases, managers need to make extensive modifications to those same systems before they can connect to the utility grid.
The first step in planning any project related to renewable-energy systems is to meet with the local utility to determine its requirements for connecting to the grid. Failing to do so or to incorporate these requirements into a system specification could result in a denial of permission to connect to the grid.
Managers also need to address specifications about such issues as the way renewable-energy components will communicate and work together. The renewable-energy industry today is similar to the building-automation industry 25 years ago. Each manufacturer of renewable-energy systems has developed its own, proprietary standard for the way its systems and components communicate and interact with each other.
The industry is developing open-communication standards that will allow system components to be more readily integrated into an existing electrical grid, while at the same time making system data more readily available to system managers.
Until those standards are fully developed and available, managers must take extra care when developing system specifications to ensure the new system can integrate with existing building systems.
Given the current lack of standards, as well as the complex system-compliance requirements utility companies have put in place, managers would be wise to seek outside expertise in developing specifications.