Ultimately, to be successful, the Enernet must make it easy for a building to collect and generate its own clean energy while also providing alternative access to the external utility grid, with reasonable amounts of power stored for use at different times than when it is produced and collected. It will allow buildings to natively produce DC power in relatively small amounts at lower voltages through such devices as solar panels, wind turbines, and fuel cells.
To make this happen, the facilities and power generation industries first need to work together to face the single biggest challenge against moving forward: going from AC to DC power at the building level.
"While this challenge might seem formidable, the 100-year-old AC system we currently are using is problematic and is becoming more and more expensive to overcome," Patterson says, noting that the change to DC is more practical today than ever before because of the rapid development of modern power electronics.
"In the low-voltage domain found in buildings today, with applications typically under 1,000 volts, solid-state electronics have solved the problems related to voltage conversion in DC circuits," he says. "They have made connecting devices using hundreds of volts and ones using just less than 10 volts in the same DC system practical."
As Symanski notes, the utilities can serve as a great information source to facility managers. Reps can come out and do audits, make suggestions about building system components, and even provide guidance on installing solar power panels on the rooftop.
"The utility can work with the facility management team to find ways to be more efficient," Symanski says. "In some states, there even are incentives for customers in commercial buildings to help them save energy. An audit is a good place to start."
The transition also will need to come down to education within the facilities sector, Johnson adds, noting that many opportunities have yet to be recognized and that the concept of DC still "freaks out" many people in the industry.
"We started doing this discussion in the EMerge Alliance eight years ago, and back then people wouldn't even think about DC to DC distribution," Johnson says. "We are making headway."
The underlying concept of an Enernet for electric power has come a long way since the EMerge Alliance and others first embraced the idea.
"At this juncture, no one can accurately predict how fast it will come into existence, but it will happen," Patterson says. "This undertaking is in full stride, and every building management professional can be part of the movement today."
Formed in 2008, EMerge Alliance is a non-profit, open, membership-based industry association that develops innovative standards leading to the rapid adoption of DC power distribution in commercial buildings. Its first standard, the EMerge Standard, which was announced in 2009, is an open power distribution platform for the use of safe, low-voltage DC power in commercial interiors.
This standard is designed to integrate interior infrastructures, power, controls, and devices into a common microgrid platform — one that will facilitate the hybrid use of AC and DC power throughout buildings.
The alliance's goal is to accelerate adoption of its standards and simplify the process by requiring that all of the standards deliver required solutions based on market requirements and ecosystem approval; gain buyer assurance with products evaluated against the standards and registered for public view; and offer increased supply choices in the value chain that spans the needs of different commercial facilities.
For more information, visit www.emergealliance.org.
Developing Enernet Foresees Buildings Playing Integral Role Within Power Distribution Network
Future Building Needs Include Connecting Directly To Utility’s AC Power
Enernet’s Success Will Mean Buildings Must Easily Generate Their Own Clean Energy