Laura Sanchez 2016-09-15 18:31:22
Starlings flock this time of year. Their murmurations create swirling clouds that twist and shift direction with liquid-like fluidity. Scientists have determined that starlings model a complex physics concept known as scale-free correlation. When one bird changes direction or speed, each of the others in the flock responds to the change—and they do so nearly simultaneously, oftentimes to escape a predatory hawk. This unity affords them security and a level of aerodynamic efficiency. In order to fly synchronously, each bird coordinates its flight path with seven of its nearest neighbors. Information moves across the flock very quickly in a wing-to-wing game of telephone. It’s a model of mesh networking and heightened connectivity that offers insight into the level of technology coordination that our energy future will need in order to become more stable, resilient, and efficient. As constellations of distributed energy resources are added to the current distribution structure, it is increasingly important for these interconnected systems and centralized power stations to functionally complement one another. To learn more about the flexibility of the current structure and its ability to support widespread renewable integration, the US Department of Energy recently commissioned the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) to perform a study of four potential energy futures. Using Peregrine, its high-performance supercomputer (capable of 2.25 million billion calculations per second), NREL modeled the four scenarios for the Eastern Interconnection—the 459K-mile transmission network that distributes 70% of the US’s energy load. It determined that this major power system can reliably support up to 30% penetrations of wind and solar power. The research brings to the foreground the importance of supporting technologies such as energy storage, inverters, communications platforms, and improved means of data sharing to help coordinate DERs with centralized generation. These tools have the potential to enhance efficiency, mitigate integration issues, and support harmonious operation. In this issue of Business Energy magazine, we celebrate the exquisite connectivity of collaborative energy technologies as well as the performance enhancements they offer. We look at examples of collective efficiency in “Community Microgrids” (page 16), localized power networks in which energy is bought and sold across property lines to maximize its native usage and minimize expense. This community framework not only provides a shorter distance from generation source to end-users, it reduces peaks and transmission costs, and increases resilience with the possibility of islanding. In “Turning Data into Action” (page 10) we learn how tracing the energy usage of a building’s internal systems—HVAC, lighting, fire protection, security, and energy and water delivery—can enable data-informed decisions. By comparing the energy usage of similar structures through benchmarking, energy management data can be consolidated and correlated to produce a more streamlined energy profile. The flexibility and sustainability of our energy future relies on alliances between energy technologies. In “Better Together” (page 32) we explore the enhanced efficiencies of combined heat and power systems and the applications they support—from small, stand-alone units that accompany photovoltaic arrays to district heating and microgrids. Partnered technologies, unified energy systems, and consolidated data streams corroborate the notion that increased collaboration and connectivity—a synchronization of wingbeats—will make our energy future more stable, resilient, and efficient. In what ways does your organization utilize collective efficiency to enhance energy performance? BE
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