Continuous power supply is critical to maintain commercial, industrial, and hospital/medical facilities. As a result, facilities must have robust power systems to continue operations in the event of a grid outage. Most of these systems are powered by diesel generators. Companies looking to improve their sustainability while continuing to protect their power systems against risk are beginning to incorporate renewable energy into their distributed energy power systems. Sustainable options like solar power with battery backup can mitigate the risks of traditional backup power sources while also reducing environmental impact.

Mission Critical Power Systems

Emergency backup power systems are designed to remain off during normal conditions and then to kick in immediately when grid power supply is lost. Typical power systems consist of grid power; diesel generators, designed for emergency use only; controls to shut-down noncritical loads during an outage; and, in some cases, a cogeneration/combined heat and power (CHP) generator to provide ongoing distributed energy.

A distributed energy controller acts as the conductor for the orchestra of generation and demand resources, providing safe, reliable, continuous power.

While diesel generators are safe and reliable, their energy costs are higher than solar, and they can be subject to emissions penalties if used too much outside of an emergency.

Although many facilities contract with a fuel supplier to replenish diesel stores during emergencies, conditions during very severe emergencies, such as floods or earthquakes, can prevent fuel from being delivered.

Incorporating Renewable Energy

Many facilities are considering renewable energy sources as part of their power generation portfolio. While 100% renewable solar and battery-powered systems are theoretically possible, in most instances, they would require more space than is available due to the need to build a system large enough to produce electricity both for daytime use and to store it for nighttime and for days when clouds reduce solar power production. It is more feasible to incorporate solar power and energy storage as space allows. These resources can be used to supplement and diversify more traditional nonrenewable sources. These facilities will be able to use the lowest cost and cleanest power first — solar — followed by cogeneration or grid power and, finally, diesel generation in an emergency.

Benefits and Challenges

Since solar power with battery backups is not dependent on delivered fuel, on-site solar generation serves as insurance against the risk of fuel interruption by reducing diesel generation and allowing fuel stored on-site to be used for longer periods in an emergency. In addition, as a renewable resource, solar systems help achieve corporate sustainability objectives.

There are three challenges to incorporating solar power and battery systems into mission critical facilities.

First is addressing the concerns of facility power managers that intermittent generation sources, such as solar, can be safely integrated into a mission critical power system without jeopardizing reliability. A state-of-the-art distributed energy controller can safely and reliably achieve that integration.

Second, photovoltaic (PV) systems require space, which can be limited at many rooftop locations. Creative siting, such as PV-covered parking canopies, can provide options.

Lastly, some of the cost savings for solar power and batteries comes from federal investment tax credits and accelerated depreciation. This limits their use for some facility types, especially hospitals and health care facilities. However, even not-for-profit organizations can harness these benefits by leasing systems from system integrators.

With forethought, all these challenges can be addressed as facilities plan to incorporate sustainable power systems into their power portfolio.

Reliable Power

Continuous power supply, regardless of emergency circumstances, is critical to operation of industrial, commercial, and hospital/healthcare facilities. Incorporating solar power and battery backup into a power generation portfolio, with care given to the challenges these systems present, can improve power supply availability, sustainability, and cost, even during major emergencies.