Energy planning for the end of the world
Whether you got a clear view of the recent solar eclipse or not, you probably noticed the sky got much darker. The end of the world isn’t quite here yet, but it does make you think about how much we rely on energy, and how we need to preserve it to be a sustainable society.
The amount of solar power generation has significantly increased since the last eclipse in 1999. It is estimated that the UK has 5GW of solar power, equivalent to that of about eight gas fired power stations. Yet National Grid confirmed before the event that the “loss of solar is entirely manageable”, as "we have a range of tools in place to manage any effects of the eclipse and balance the network."
True enough on Friday 20 March 2015, while I was safely viewing the eclipse through some welding glasses on site, our office continued to be supplied with power. Through careful power planning, the grid was robust enough for the power dip and then power surge.
The eclipse seen from one of our sites.
Power planning for peak construction activity
Power planning is essential to keeping construction sites going. At BAM, we use tools to predict and manage our energy use on projects, so sites can request a sufficient supply size. The tool assesses what equipment will be on site at a particular time, to pick out the peak load – in the unlikely event of everything being turned on at the same time.
Often for larger projects the supply size available in the street off of the existing Low Voltage infrastructure is not sufficient to meet the demand of the site. So there are two options: bring on a generator to meet the extra demand, or pay the price to bring a large enough supply to the site using a High Voltage connection and temporary substation.
Using the power planning tool, we now have an effective way of combatting the short term view, and showing sites that it may be worth the additional up-front cost of obtaining the electricity supply. The power plan will estimate the diesel consumption over the duration of the project, which is not only a higher cost per kWh than electricity, but is more carbon intensive. As kWh and carbon both have a cost to the business, this is often far higher than the grid supply would be.
Energy monitoring actual construction activity
During the construction phase we use another tool, a digital energy monitoring solution, which can provide up to date information for the last 5 minutes on sites that use our in house metering solution. So short term changes can be traced, as well as longer term trends.
Energy monitoring help sites track energy use
We acknowledge that energy is essential for a lot of work on our sites, from lifting materials, to transporting operatives to the top of buildings, and keeping our office setup running. So our real focus is to reduce out of hours consumption to the bare minimum. A monthly report is issued that really highlights this to the site team, providing the total cost of energy used when nobody is working, as well as an estimate of how much this will cost the project if it continues for the remainder of the contract. By making small changes (timers are an energy manager’s best friend!), sites can drastically reduce their energy consumption.
We can save the world! One timer at a time…
Mark Talbot is Electrical Operations Manager at BAM.
If you would like to talk to us about sustainability, contact us.
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