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Cutting Edge grid controls could kill need for coal

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For a significant part of his career, as head of EnergyAustralia, Richard McIndoe’s primary role was to protect his company’s major asset – the Yallourn brown coal generator – against the threat of early closure. It made him a fierce critic of the proposed carbon price and other policies.

Now, in a new role that embraces disruption rather than resisting it, McIndoe is promoting technology that could help Australia to safely close, not just the Hazelwood generator, but the Yallourn coal-fired generator he fought so hard to defend.

Like other coal industry veterans such as Hazelwood’s former boss Tony Concannon (now at Reach Solar) and EA’s Adrian Merrick (founder of Energy Locals), McIndoe has leaped the fence from dirty brown to shiny green (although it should be noted he is a former chair of the Clean Energy Council).

But rather than go to fashionable technologies like solar and battery storage, McIndoe has chosen to focus on ideas that have been around for some time but not fully exploited – voltage regulation and power factor correction technologies.

If these technologies don’t sound very sexy, it’s because they are not. But McIndoe says the software developed by Neal Stewart, his partner in his new venture, Edge Electrons, can make the grid significantly more efficient, more easy to manage in peak demand, and deliver major savings to consumers.

What’s more, it can make the grid less reliant on the very brown coal generators that he was once sworn to protect. “If you had these devices on 25 per cent of Australian homes, you could close down Yallourn,” he says.
edge electronsGiven the right incentives, his company’s eSaver e-SolarIQ products – which keep voltage steady at around 220v to ensure the efficient use of appliances – could cut household electricity use by up to 12 per cent, and deliver paybacks within a few years.

“Given the right carbon price and energy efficiency incentives, paybacks could be a year or less,” he says.

The power factor control product could deliver even more significant savings for business, particularly those being hit by new demand charges. The product is designed to improve the efficiency of certain equipment – motors, pumps, fans, machinery – and therefore reduce the power drawn from the grid.

And, McIndoe estimates, the technologies could clip 5 per cent of the system peaks – a resource the market operator might welcome during the summer heatwaves to keep the lights on, and reduce the need to turn to expensive peaking gas and diesel generators.

McIndoe was first introduced to the technology while at EA, and admits to being surprised by what this and other technologies such as solar and storage can do.

“Technology has moved faster than I thought, and the transition is going to be a lot shorter than I thought it was going to be. I don’t think any of the incumbents have come to terms with how rapidly technology will change this industry.”

The problem facing the likes of McIndoe is the resistance of the incumbents to change, although it should be said that promoting energy efficiency and demand management ideas appear to have a strong ally in the new head of the Australian Energy Market Operator, Audrey Zibelman.

“I genuinely think we are seeing a battle where the major gentailers are desperately defending the hegemony of their position and control of the system,” McIndoe says.

“Their biggest fear is a loss of control to the party which controls the point of load, hence their strategy of taking control of metering away from the DSO (distribution networks).

“For their part the DSOs are looking at the problem from the perspective of greater visibility in order to drive/justify wide scale additional investment rather than adopting technologies which will reduce demand and thereby result in a more targeted but ultimately lower cost solution.”

So just how does his technology work?

edge elect

The first products available to households are the Edge SolarIQ for houses with solar or storage and the eSaver for smaller, non-solar households.  The devices regulate voltage at the household level and ensure that the appliances operate at 220v.

That doesn’t usually happen. As this graph above illustrates (and the other at the top), networks are tipping power into the grid at 253v in some locations to make sure that everyone gets the minimum amount that is regulated, 216v.

The impact of higher voltage is more wear and tear on appliances and inefficient use of electricity. Voltages are also rising because of the impact of solar PV, which is causing reverse power flows in some instances and driving network voltages up in a matter not foreseen when they were designed.

McIndoe estimates that the device – which comes in a small box similar to an inverter, or small meter – can reduce kWh consumption in households by 9-12 per cent per annum.

It can increase the solar returns by a further 6-9 per cent because, by reducing voltage in the house you use less electricity domestically, so there is more solar energy to export to the grid.  McIndoe points out that this will be particularly attractive to customers with ongoing high feed-in tariff.

As well, it can provide flexibility. If the device is set at a constant 230 volts, it will still deliver an 8 per cent saving, but then have the flexibility to lower voltage again to a regulatory minimum of 216 volts to reduce demand if there is an interruption in supply. It’s another tool for networks and grid operators.

“So rather than always relying on expensive standby gas generation, you have another ‘tool in the box’ to address the interruption from intermittent supply,” he says.

“It’s also a much more targeted and precise solution than looking at the grid as a whole. That means that you can target individual areas where there’s a lot of solar or wind.”

edge electrons 3

The company’s other major product is the power factor control device known as the Edge PowerSave. Essentially this makes consumption more efficient, reduces network capacity used by up to 25 per cent, and delivers significant savings to businesses, particularly those on demand charges.

He says they are particularly suited for small to medium-sized businesses – about 400,000 of them are on kV limits or pricing, such as golf clubs, farms, hotels, and petrol stations, and the number is growing.

Edge Electrons is looking to hook up with a number of key strategic partners such as home builders, smart meter and energy efficient lighting providers, the solar and storage industry, energy brokers and wholesalers, and facilities management companies.

Edge has already partnered with Rexel on the wholesale distribution side of the PowerSave product as well as a number of national facilities management and energy brokers such as Energy Action and Bid Energy.

McIndoe hopes to announce a broader national partnership with a major energy retailer over the next few months.

The company has completed 6 months of market trials in Queensland for the eSaver and SolarIQ products and these will now be launched on a national scale at the end of August, initially through two major solar companies but also through a network of national accredited solar installers, and possibly one major retailer.

McIndoe says, however, that the industry view in Australia is completely different to that in Europe, which he has recently visited.

“In Europe there are real, hard targets for energy efficiency, it is a real government policy with teeth. The contrast with Australia, where we have disparate and inconsistent state-based efficiency schemes – which end up being too small and therefore subject to manipulation and volatility – is stark.”

“I don’t think the network companies in Australia are truly across the technologies being developed for edge of grid management. There are a few pilots, but absent a real government push they will just wither on the vine.”

That presents a problem as the grid heads towards its inevitable transition from one driven uniquely by supply to one focused as much on demand management. “It’s very difficult to flip everything on its head unless you have enabling technologies.”

And, he adds, almost ruefully: “It’s just a shame we don’t have a carbon price.” He sees the irony of his comment. A veritable volte-face, as the French might say.

“We argued that the generators needed time to make the transition. Unfortunately those generators have just used that time to shore up their position and raise prices further. They certainly do not need protection from a carbon price anymore.”  

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  • George Michaelson

    Playing with reactive power. Which side of the rotating disc meter is this? Where does the control logic go, that keeps a grid stable, if it can’t over-volt because the homes refuse to consume it?

    I am probably missing something, but this feels like a ‘there is no free lunch’ solution which pushes a problem into somebody else’s space.

    If you put batteries and re-generation into the supply chain close to a customer you can disconnect from the network frequency and voltage and absorb (within limits) variations coming in, but if you pace the supply side, I don’t see how you can reject overvolts without pushing backwards up the cables.

    I am not an electrical engineer, a doctor or a coalminer. please keep it simple. Explain how this works at scale, network-wide.

    (when he said targets SMEs I immediately thought its some trick in three-phase supply, where I think you can be a bit naughty with which phase you consume)

    • Richard M

      The eSaver/SolarIQ device goes either side of the meter – it can be a network asset or a retailer/customer asset. By stabilizing voltage at the point of load we ensure customer power quality and savings from lower KWH consumption. The network still has to maintain overall power quality, but stabilizing the voltage at a customer level addresses power quality issues for a major stakeholder group.

      The ability to adjust the voltage in real time – all our devices are fully comms enabled – means the network or retailer can create virtual demand management by moving voltage up and down at the point of load.

      By stabilizing voltage at the customer delivery point, it gives greater predictability to networks which should incentivise them to more efficiently manage voltage – which they do through voltage “tapping”. At the moment, as a customer you just get what you’re given, which in some cases is 10-15% more voltage than you need. That’s works out to be a lot more KWH than you require.

      You are right, there’s no free lunch. Ultimately the “loser’ will be the generator because a stable grid with lower overall voltage will mean less overall generation. The “winner” is the customer, who consumes less power, has improved power quality and lowers his carbon footprint. A close “runner up’ is the network, who gets all the visibility that a smart meter gives them PLUS a lot more control of the grid.

      The device is bi-directional, so for the SolarIQ unit for those with solar or storage we can step up the voltage on any excess energy you generate to feed it into the grid. The key is that you use less of your self generated or stored energy if your domestic appliances all run at 220 volts. Your appliances will last a lot longer as well.

      The Powersave device for small businesses reduces the amount of reactive power (KVAR) which certain machinery such as pumps, motors, cooling requires. This reduces the overall peak KVA (kilovolt amperes) supplied to your business over a billing period. Different networks charge various KVA tariffs to their business customers. Some more enlightened networks (such as Energex) actually offer incentives to customers to install the Powersave device. Others just charge the customer and leave it to them to find a solution or use less power.

      You are correct. Most power factor correction technology is very inefficient as it only corrects a single phase, on the assumption your 3 phases are all balanced. This isn’t the case with smaller businesses, so the Powersave is designed to specifically correct each phase individually.

      • Rod

        Any indication of a rough price Richard?
        I’m assuming this will be more attractive to high energy use households.

        • Richard M

          Hi Rod. For all our devices – domestic voltage regulators or power factor correction for businesses – we target a 3 year payback or less. This assumes a conservative 8- 10% energy saving. Higher domestic users will come in well within this, as will people with high feed in tariffs (by reducing your domestic consumption you improve your level of KWH feed in).

          The SolarIQ is designed for higher users and solar/storage – 5KW households. At reasonable volumes we will supply this at under $1,000. The eSaver is smaller and targeted at 2KW households. It’s one of the few opportunities available for smaller, low income households to save energy. At volume, this will be well below $500.

          With a carbon price and energy efficiency targets, as we are seeing in the UK and Europe, these customer costs come down significantly. Equally the peak demand management capability and network control benefits will reduce the end cost to consumers.

          On the business side, the Powersave delivers paybacks of 4 years or less for over 75% of customers on a KVA tariff. Some sectors, such as farming, will see paybacks as low as 12 months because their pumping and machinery load is so inefficient. The Powersave comes in various sizes which cover a range of users from a small corner store or fast food outlet up to a large hotel, school or farm

          In all cases we offer a zero cash down, low interest rate financing option for the full installed cost of the equipment. This means you will get a positive cash flow from month 1. Given the 25 year life of the appliances, we believe the economics for customers are compelling.

          http://www.edgeelectrons.com

          • Rod

            Thanks Richard,
            I visited your web page.
            It might be my browser (Firefox) but couldn’t register my interest.

            Yes, mainly interested in the eSaver and will be interested in the eventual cost.

          • Travis

            This is partially BS “domestic voltage regulators or power factor correction for businesses – we target a 3 year payback or less. This assumes a conservative 8- 10% energy saving. Higher domestic users will come in well within this” Sure PF in businesses can be a power saving, voltage regulators in households are a scam. In a modern house inverter and switchmode technology makes up the majority of appliances. Lowering the voltage on resistive elements only increases the time the element is on. Dropping the voltage to a steady 220V in the large majority of households will equate to zero power saving, and could actually increase the power used. The voltage regulating device connected to the grid 24×7 imposes another penalty. As for appliances lasting longer that is also a furphy as majority of appliances are rated to 240V and 250V. New washing machine is rated at 100V to 240V.

  • CaresAboutHealth

    This device might also solve the voltage rise problem for households that aren’t close to a transformer. I looked into the feasibility of using an existing transformer for a new build, only to find that PV exports to the grid would be ruled about because of the PV inverters needs to increase the voltage at the home to whatever is needed to feed power back into the nearest transformer connected to the grid, but too high a voltage at the home can damage household appliances.

    Sounds like this device would solve the problem and allow the PV inverter to pump out whatever is needed to feed power back into the grid through the nearest transformer, while still keeping the home owners’ power at 220 volts. Is that correct?

    • Peter G

      The embedded generation over-voltage feedback problem would still exist as the voltage tap at the transformer sets the initial voltage at the beginning of the line. When connections are consuming the voltage drops along the line and so the tap is set so that the last connection point will be above the minimum allowed. Conversly if embedded PV comes into the line at a time of low consumption the voltage will increase at each PV connection point pumping energy into the line. This technology may reduce peak demand on a line and so allow a lower voltage tap on the transformer (that would allow more PV to connect before over voltage) but I cannot see how it would address the problem otherwise.

      • Richard M

        By stabilizing the household voltage at a steady 220 volts we are addressing the customer needs of lower consumption, improved power quality and lower CO2 emissions. Network operators still have to maintain overall voltage and power quality on the grid. However, our devices are all fully communications enabled and provide real time visibility of power quality and voltage levels at each home. this gives networks a way more accurate picture of what is happening on the grid. Remember, currently most networks are flying completely blind, without even the most basic of smart meters.

        Networks will still need to use voltage tapping. The eSaver device allows them to determine and provide the least cost, most efficient way to maintain low cost power quality across the whole grid.

    • Richard M

      That’s correct. Also, the SolarIQ overcomes the issue of “Over Voltage Lockout”. in areas of high voltage (above 253 volts) your inverter is restricted from inputting to the grid. The regulatory restriction is designed to preserve network power quality, but it means that at peak times you are not getting any feed in tariff. If that’s not bad enough, because your inverter “locks out’ at high voltages, you aren’t even supplying your own domestic use.

      in areas of concentrated household solar, inverters push up the voltage on the grid to a point where a number of older inverters simply do not work. This is usually not something which you will be told before you install your system.

      The SolarIQ protects your household circuit at 220 volts and ensures that at least you are supplying you own home with solar power at all times, even if your feed in the grid is restricted

  • Ian

    It seems like the networks need to promote and incentivise pv in the low voltage regions, and turn down the voltage…allowing more solar around high v. areas

    • Richard M

      None of the networks has anticipated the extent of the issues around managing voltage in areas of concentrated solar penetration. Overseas networks are looking at Australia as the “test case”. Hawaii had such major issues with voltage management that they stopped approving new solar – which causes all sorts of social and political issue – and their penetration is less than 15%. Australia is heading towards 25% penetration with some areas at over 40%.

      As generators ramp up wholesale prices more people will move off grid, leaving the remaining customers paying ever more. we have passed the tipping point. It’s no longer a question of promoting solar, it’s more a question of how best to manage the effects of mass solar on the grid.

      Currently networks have zero visibility or control of voltage at the household level. It’s a problem that will lead to widescale power quality issues, higher cost to consumers and possible black out if they can’t manage it properly. The esaver gives them this visibility and control, while also delivering savings to customers

      • Coley

        The UK is dealing with large penetrations of renewables without any significant problems, this seems to be just another ‘non issue, scare story’

        • Richard M

          The UK doesn’t have anywhere near the penetration of domestic solar, for reasons obvious to anyone who has visited. It’s this domestic solar penetration which causes the main voltage issues on the LV network, as per the Queensland Govt and Brattle group reports referred to above.

          Ireland actually has very significant problems with renewables targets. They have targets of 75% renewables (mainly wind) in a system where data centre flat load of 1.5GW has been added in the past 3 years. They are studying the SA system issues from last year very closely

  • Chris Fraser

    So far it’s been ten years of hell for anxious climate acceptors waiting for industry leaders to use the best of their knowledge, ethics, conscience and then speak/act in the interests of future generations even if it clashes with one’s career.

    • Coley

      They make their money from defending and promoting FF interests, then presumably take a a golden handshake retirement deal and then go on to make even more money by promoting technology they were deriding in their previous careers!!?
      The stench of hypocrisy is worse than that of a dog rolling in discarded fish guts!

  • ChrisEcoSouth

    That eSaver box does not look very big…..

    Standard engineering ways of stepping down/up voltage are either by use of a transformer, or by use of a switch-mode circuit – both of which are current limited, and that limit dictates the size of the box. I think the promoters need to come forward and divulge exactly what technology is being used, to avoid being labelled as a sham. The box appears to be just not big enough to handle the full current of a house and do what it purports to.
    Also, certain statements do not exactly give me confidence:
    “At 255 V your solar panels are up to 15% less efficient, which reduces the electricity they produce.” What bunkum is this? Whichever way you cut it, the AC voltage that the inverter experiences has nothing to do with efficiency of your panels, save if the inverter goes offline.

    “At constant lower voltage, you can decrease solar panel size and cost, or export more power to the grid.” More bunkum. As an erstwhile movie character once said “Ye canna change the laws o’ physics”. As has been said already – no free lunch; the power into the inverter *must* be the same as the power out of the inverter; since the operation of the input to the inverter is wholly unaffected by normal output variance, then it doesn’t matter if the AC voltage is in the range of 220 to 255, the power output *will* be the same!

    A number of ‘voltage savers’ have appeared on the market over the years, all making similar claims, and yet there is scarcely now a modern appliance that actually uses more power if the supply voltage is higher – most run on switchmode power supplies, which are designed to accept a range of supply voltages, this is just like the solar inverter (and individually do just what a ‘voltage saver’ claims to do!). Examples of older loads which would use more power were: incandescent globes – they would be brighter, but of course they would be consuming a touch more Wattage; old-style plug-packs had fairly inefficient transformers, so a higher voltage meant they would run warmer, and use a tiny amount more power.
    [Shakes head, and gets cup of tea………..]

    • Richard M

      Hi Chris. No, it’s not very big. That’s the beauty of electronics. The unique, patented technology delivers AC:AC voltage regulation. As you will be aware from the other ‘voltage savers’ you refer to, this form of regulation has never been achieved before. The usual method is to convert to AC to DC and regulate the voltage, then re-convert back to AC. Taking out that DC step allows us to reduce the size and cost significantly and achieve close to 99% efficiency in the process.

      If your household voltage is at 255V your appliances will use more KWH. At 220V they use between 10-15% less KWH (some appliances are more/less responsive to changing voltages than others – it’s known as the CVR or conservation voltage regulation coefficient). You’ll find a lot of studies on the CVR coefficient of different appliances and machinery. Generally it’s calculated to be a coefficient of between 0,6 and 1.1 depending on the type of load, but you’ll find that cheaper, lower quality appliances seem to respond more to changes in voltage.

      If you have a solar system and your domestic appliances are using fewer KWHs then by simple maths you export more net KWH to the grid, which hopefully means you earn more feed-in tariff.

      This means your financial yield from your solar system improves.. It’s not a free lunch – or cup of tea -, it’s just more efficient.

      • ChrisEcoSouth

        Thanks for your reply.
        Sorry ‘unique patented’ does not cut it. You will have to explain the principle better than that – you are protected by a patent, so now you can gain credibility by explaining the principle technically. Otherwise, you may as well advertise moonshine. Hint: your explanation should include how your current is limited, ie and including ranges of operation – I mean that is just standard datasheet stuff! – BTW, where is your datasheet?

        “at 255V your appliances will use more KWH” – you are repeating yourself, and not giving any new information. Indeed CVR is the term for all this, but it still concerns what I have already said, namely, that the more electronic loads there are (typically switch-mode supplies including appliance-intrinsic inverters), the less benefit there is.
        Example ref from 2003 and already out of date (what serious power-conscious person uses incandescent lighting?):
        http://www.legendpower.com/downloads/resource-BC%20Hydro%20White%20Paper-%20Benefits%20of%20Customer%20Voltage%20Regulation.pdf

        I challenge you to name something that actually uses non-negligible more power in a residential situation, if the line Vac rises.

        Your brochure specifically said “”At 255 V your solar panels are up to 15% less efficient” – if you cannot explain this, one can only conclude you are being misleading.

        • Patrick Comerford

          Remember this blokes background Chris he is obviously someone who is quite content to say whatever he is paid to say. Anyone who defended the use of brown coal generation and resisted the science based logic of a price on carbon has a credibility issue in my book.

          • ChrisEcoSouth

            Thanks Patrick.

        • Richard M

          Chris

          Datasheet
          We provide data sheets on request. Please see the Contact section at http://www.edgeelectrons.com.

          Loads
          Yes, loads are becoming more efficient but will likely remain in-efficient for the next ten years. Recent reports by PEPCO/Brattle Group and Queensland Energy, for example, have current statistics on CVR factors for energy. I also suggest you review the PNNL website, as the US DOE is doing a lot of work in this area.

          We are also conducting our own study with live installations and see actual results similar to those above, if higher given our focus market segment. We will release study results later this year.

          Lastly, peak demand response (an important application of the Saver) can be much less affected by this trend as it relates to thermostatically controlled loads. This is due to difference between Power and Energy sensitivities of the load and equipment duty cycles.

          Switch-load
          The industry is seeing an interesting duality in this area. More appliances are becoming energy efficient through “switchers” and inverters. This is a positive for the consumer and the environment to be sure.

          That said, one tends to get what they pay for. Increasing manufacturing and cost competition is leading to short cuts, some of which result in “false” switchers for example. The following link shows an example of an efficient LED and one that has been cost-cut, e.g. using capacitive droppers to mimic the more expensive switchers. (http://imgur.com/CwOIUBh)

          Inverters
          This is a reference to net metering. Any kWh not used due to energy savings at load can then be sold at the FIT.

          Sources
          PEPCO/Brattle: http://www.brattle.com/system/publications/pdfs/000/005/289/original/AESP_2016_Pepco_MD_CVR_Presentation_5-9-16.pdf?1463672324

          Queensland Government: https://www.dews.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/1237163/consultation-ris-qld-statutory-voltage-limits.pdf

          PNNL (US DOE): http://www.pnnl.gov/

          • ChrisEcoSouth

            Ok
            No circuit principle
            No datasheet (is hidden)
            No specific load examples (go search instead) (apart from a dodgy LED which uses negligible power anyway)
            No response to what appears to be a misleading statement

            The papers you quote concern network feeders only – not specifically residential loads, although they are there – it would be commercial loads benefitting most. And they discuss remedies at the source – not at the point of consumption.

            This paper shows CFLs use a bit more power (CFLs are quickly disappearing!) It also shows LCDs and plasma TVs *dropping* power output as Vac increases!
            http://www.pnl.gov/main/publications/external/technical_reports/PNNL-19596.pdf

            It appears you are trying to address network wide CVR issues with a ‘magic box’ of mysterious origin, that you are refusing to clarify technically. Surely any network-wide CVR issues are best addressed by the networks themselves, at the source?

            Thanks for the discussion – nice to see some of the papers.
            I’ll leave it to the reader to decide for themselves.

  • neroden

    Aren’t these sorts of things (power factor correction and voltage correction) normally integrated into stationary batteries?

  • Brad @ BSEWA

    I would be very interested to see if this works? seems exactly the same as the “Vphase” unit that has been around for at least 5yrs here in Aus. I have installed them and they work just like as described in this article?? Volts down amps up more from your solar everytime.