An electrical solution to energy consumption in wastewater treatment

20. April 2012 16:07

Variable speed drives can reduce energy required for basic infrastructure services like wastewater treatment plants

Wastewater treatment facilities usually aren't the subject of cocktail party conversation. Yet proper wastewater treatment is an absolutely essential part of ensuring basic health and safety in our communities, something most of us take for granted.

Wastewater plants use a technique called aeration in order to separate the water from other sewage contents, and to allow microorganisms work to further purify the water for re-use. However, aeration blowers account for an enormous amount of energy used at a wastewater treatment facilities, often between 45% and 75% of a plant's total energy costs.

As such, these facilities are excellent candidates for efficiency improvements. This can be done with inlet throttling valves, which can realize a certain degree of energy savings, but greater long term energy savings as well as process control and reduced maintenance costs can be achieved with an electrical solution.

Enter variable speed drives.

Tom Jenkins, an industry expert and consultant, will be speaking about this topic at Automation and Power World on Wednesday. He has many years of experience in system design engineering in addition to his position at the University of Wisconsin teaching the next generation about water and wastewater treatment issues and solutions.

So next time you pass by your local wastewater facility, think of all those talented engineers that keep it up and running, and hopefully using less energy by leveraging electrical drive technology.


FERC mandate for frequency regulation boosts energy storage visibility

20. April 2012 15:52

Critical frequency regulation requirements will pave the way for energy storage solutions to play larger role

As energy consumption has increased, issues of supply and demand have become critical to grid operators' ability to deliver reliable electricity through the transmission and distribution system.

Yet we still take for granted that our computers will fire up every morning, our refrigerators will keep our food cold, and our smart phones will quickly charge so we can keep that hours-long game of Angry Birds going. Guaranteeing that kind of reliability for every individual who consumes electric power is no small task.

A transmission system's frequency must remain consistent in order to provide reliable service to customers. Utilities must constantly maintain a delicate balance between generation and load. Any significant deviation can cause equipment to disconnect from the grid and in the worst cases, lead to a cascading blackout. Adding to the supply and demand issue for grid operators is the increasing number of wind and solar farms coming online. The variable nature of these energy sources significantly impacts frequency regulation, meaning even more attention is needed to meet reliability requirements.

The Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) recently issued a ruling that requires grid operators to reward facilities that are faster and more precise in providing frequency regulation services, and that has opened up new opportunities for some energy storage technologies.

Energy storage can level peaks and valleys of generation so that the grid and its consumers experience a seamless flow of power to their facilities and homes. Batteries, flywheels and pumped storage are especially suited to frequency regulation thanks to their ability to quickly and accurately correct small deviations and help the grid run more smoothly.

In light of FERC's ruling, it's not surprising that ABB is talking a lot about energy storage at this year's Automation & Power World. More than 10 workshops are on the agenda in addition to exhibits in power electronics, power systems and power products all aimed at informing attendees about a technology we'll can expect to see more of in the years to come.


Watch this space--Automation & Power World kicks off Monday, Apr 23

19. April 2012 10:56

ABB's premier customer event of the year gets underway next week in Houston, Texas and we'll be blogging it from start to finish

More than 400 conference sessions, 130,000 feet of exhibit space, 4,000+ expected attendees... Automation & Power World 2012 is set to be the biggest and best yet. This year, a team of bloggers will be posting reports from the conference sessions as well as the exhibits in the Technology & Solutions Center and other goings-on in Houston. If you aren't able to attend--or even if you are--check back to this site often as we'll be posting new content on a regular basis over the course of the week.

After Stuxnet: cyber security must change

21. April 2011 13:58

The mega-virus has ushered in a new era in cyber security

The cyber security panel on Wednesday started off with a discussion of Stuxnet, the uber-virus that sent shock waves through the security world last year. The panel was moderated by Greg Hale of Industrial Safety & Security, and industry web site, and included:
  • Marcus Braendle, Group Head of Cyber Security at ABB
  • Brian Ahern, CEO of Industrial Defender
  • Tim Roxey, Director of Risk Management and Technology at NERC
  • Eric Cosman, Engineering IT Consultant at Dow Chemical

Braendle said the lesson of Stuxnet was that it is impossible to completely protect an industrial system from such a potent and highly targeted attack, and that it was "a matter of when, not if, another such attack will occur."

Stuxnet formed the basis for much of the discussion, with the panelists largely in agreement that there is a disparity between regulatory expectations and the realities of cyber security practice. NERC's Tim Roxey summarized the problem in a rhetorical question.

"Is it appropriate to expect a private enterprise to protect against an attack by a nation state?"

Ahern put things in perspective: whether malicious or unintentional, a company’s own employees represent the greatest threat to its IT systems' integrity.

Panelists also agreed that something needs to change in our overall approach to security. In addition to bringing expectations into line with capabilities, users can't rely on OEMs and operating system suppliers to keep their systems safe. Private sector businesses need to have a collaborative relationship with the government rather than the adversarial one they do now.

At the same time, system owners must take cyber security seriously.

Part of the problem there is overcoming human nature to ignore dangers that are not immediate in nature. The quotable Roxey put it bluntly: "we humans suck at risk."


The real impact of energy efficiency on the bottom line

20. April 2011 16:21

Dr. Dan Vermeer, who is the Executive Director of the Center for Energy, Development, and the global environment, within Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, outlined the barriers and some of the solutions to improved energy efficiency.

Dr. Vermeer explained that by 2030, our insatiable appetite for energy will have increased by 45 percent, i.e., increasing by 1.6 percent per year between now and then.

He said that to curb this demand we are all agreed that we need to increase our energy efficiency, but despite our convictions many of us fail to implement solutions.

He pointed out that industrialist often give the same reasons for their failings in energy efficiency improvements as we give for not improving the energy efficiency in our homes. These arguments are familiar to us all:

  • Energy costs are not high enough to justify the expense of improved energy efficiency
  • There is insufficient cash available
  • It’s not worth the investment
  • Don’t trust the data on payback time
  • The installation process will be disruptive
  • And current technology may soon become out dated

Vermeer explained that we have a good track record on improving energy efficiency, but these efficiency gains are not keeping up with the growth in our energy demands. It has been predicted that the rate of energy consumption, if unabated, will result in carbon emissions that will cause a 2-9 degree increase in the average global temperature by 2100.

He told us that our current energy systems were complex and wasteful, amounting to about 56 percent energy wastage in the US. But 52 percent of our energy usage could be saved through energy efficiency improvements. So what can we do to ensure changes are implemented?

Although energy is consumed by all sectors, residential, commercial and transportation, industry is responsible for about a third of all energy usage. Since the implementation of change would involve a few key players, change in this sector was likely to be more easily achieved. He suggested the catalyst for energy savings in this sector were likely to be:
  • Increased regulation
  • Cost savings
  • Risk mitigation
  • Brand positioning (to enhance competiveness)
  • Innovation

He highlighted some companies that were already making energy savings, such as AT&T, which have 4,200 energy efficiency projects that generate approximately $44 million worth of energy savings. He explained that the secret to their success was to have a dedicated energy manager.

He explained that a cultural change was required in order to remove some of the organizational barriers that prevent increased energy efficiency. Often energy efficiency gains were hindered by split incentives, ie, between the equipment purchaser and the equipment user, or a strong focus on productivity and growth, with no incentives given for increasing energy efficiency. He suggested a more holistic approach was required in order to gain the full benefits on energy efficiency in industry. However, he did warn of the pitfalls, which he referred to as the “rebound effect”, whereby increased energy efficiency results in increased usage, ultimately negating the environmental and resource conservation gains. He explained how energy efficiency gains in car engines had resulted in bigger more powerful cars that consume overall the same energy as the smaller less efficient cars manufactured in the past.

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