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Spiezle Blog

Dangers in the Darkness

Posted by: Frank Sherman

Severe Weather Can Disrupt Your Operations. Will You Be Ready?

715,000 customers lost power this winter in the Philadelphia region, caused by the latest in a string of severe weather events that have disrupted service. Prolonged power outages are more than an annoyance, they can be life threatening. For many building operators, especially of senior living and healthcare facilities, even short periods without power can seriously impact resident care and wellbeing. Power outages are costly and disruptive events. How can you minimize the impact on your facility of events such as these? It’s hard to predict what may happen tomorrow.

In most parts of the country, buildings need both heat and power to operate. Electricity is normally purchased from utility companies and delivered via the power grid. When the grid goes down, it’s a problem. Buildings also rely on fuel oil, propane, natural gas or electricity to produce heat to warm and cool the building as well as to provide domestic hot water. These requirements are constant and are the base energy load requirements of the building. When the power goes out, many buildings rely on a back-up diesel generator, which is noisy and expensive to maintain. Although necessary in an emergency, it is not an effective way to supply power to your facility and offers little means to supply warmth.  In the middle of a winter like this, that is a problem as well.

Building owners now have options to generate combined heat and power (CHP) using reliable cogeneration technology. Cogen systems are not only energy efficient and cost effective; they can provide uninterrupted power service during emergencies.

Spiezle is currently working with clients to incorporate CHP systems in the design of new buildings, and studying the feasibility of retrofitting existing facilities with CHP systems using natural gas fired microturbines. There microturbines are powerful, quiet, reliable and operate 24/7; providing cost effective electricity and heat energy. They integrate easily with existing building systems and are capable of generating electricity at a net cost of about 1/3 the price of purchasing electricity from the  utility company, depending upon where you are.  Many building owners see them as a good investment and a hedge against future power disruptions.

These systems are not cheap. But Many States and Utility Companies offer incentives for installing CHP systems that reduce their first cost. We are working with two clients who are installing microturbine CHP systems. One is a new hospitality project. The other is an existing apartment building. In both cases incentives and operating cost savings produce a project payback of less than 4 years.

In both cases each building has a constant demand for electricity and heat, with utility bills in excess of $100,000 a year. The microturbine CHP systems will save almost $150,000 year in regular energy costs, and supply power in an emergency for select lighting, hot water, water pumps, elevator motors, or for critical computer systems. These building owners are thinking not only about the safety and wellbeing their guests and residents, but are looking at their bottom line. What they see makes sense, especially over time. It’s not just emergencies that are on their minds, it is the cost of business today, coupled with the uncertainties of tomorrow.

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