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Industry Progress

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Changes in Electricity Usage Make Direct Current Distribution Systems Inevitable

When Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse convinced the nation that alternating current was the best delivery system for electricity, there were no such things as semiconductors or computer chips. But that was over 100 years ago. According to an article on the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch web site, as much as 80 percent of the end-uses in today’s consumer market incorporate semiconductor-based technology. And semi-conductors must be powered by direct current. Currently, most electric power produced in the nation, whether from coal, oil or hydro is inverted to AC and transmitted through the power grid to homes and businesses. But for each device that needs DC power, the electricity must be re-converted back to DC, which means power loss at both ends of the process, as much as 30 percent or more.

The technology industry, spurred by this usage trend, has focused on development of DC distribution systems, especially at the mid range voltage level (mostly at 380-400VDC), which is where most of the use will be. The result, according to a new report from Navigant Research, is that “the total worldwide capacity of DC distribution networks will surpass 2.3 gigawatts (GW) by 2025, up from just 196 megawatts (MW) in 2013.”

The company has prepared a report, “Direct Current Distribution Networks,” which provides a review of key market and technology trends with DC. An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the Navigant Research website.

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Want a Cheap Solar Panel? Just Print It.

A team of engineers in Melbourne, Australia, has developed an inexpensive method of producing solar cells from a standard industrial printer, raising the possibility that solar panels can be eventually mass produced for far less than current costs.

As reported by San Francisco public radio station KCET, engineers at the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) said on May 23 that they are able to use a $200,000 screen printer to make photovoltaic cells the size of an A3 sheet of paper (11.7 by 16.5 inches), using semiconducting inks. Such printers are typically used for applications such as screen-printing t-shirts and posters, can make a solar cell of that size every two seconds.

Currently, drawbacks to printed solar cells include the panels’ extremely low efficiency and short lifespan compared to traditional solar cells. The printed cells range from one to five percent efficiency, far lower than the 20 to 25 percent in most panels. They produce only 10 to 50 watts of energy per square meter, only enough to power a small light bulb. However, the advancement is a significant one if the technology can be improved. Solar cells like this could be added to building surfaces, billboards, and since they can be made translucent, tinted windows.

VICOSC is a collaboration between Australia's national science agency the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), The University of Melbourne, Monash University, and industry partners.

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Nextek Makes News in USA Today

Nextek Power Systems, Inc. was listed among the companies at the forefront of renewable energy technology in a USA Today web article on May 12. The article (located below a large video) concerned tying improved battery technology to renewable power generation systems, such as solar or wind. Those renewables have always worked well when the power source is available. But when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, those systems have had to revert back to using AC grid power. Better and long-lasting batteries mean that homes or buildings powered by renewables don’t have to use AC power as often, if at all.

A recent test by Nextek that was authorized by the U.S. Army’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) in Champaign, IL have shown that an entire building can be powered by solar, with enough energy left over to store in batteries, charge electric vehicle stations or even sell back to the AC energy companies.

The future of renewables is looking brighter almost every day, and Nextek is proud to be one of the companies lighting the way.

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General Motors to Offer Electric Car that Accepts DC as Well as AC Charge

In a clear sign that Direct Current (DC) power systems are gaining widespread acceptance, General Motors has announced plans to produce an electric vehicle that accepts both AC and DC input for charging. According to an article posted on The New York Times web site, the electric-only Chevrolet Spark will be GM’s second EV product, following the success of the Chevy Volt. The car will come with a standard AC charge port, but will also have a DC port. The difference does more than just add flexibility to the car’s charging options. AC charging is typically done using 110 or 220 volt systems, such as those found in a home. Those deliver 1 to 5 kilowatts of power, meaning it takes hours to charge the car’s batteries. A DC vehicle charger, such as those found in Nextek-designed microgrids, can deliver 50 kilowatts, which will bring the Spark to 80 percent charge in just 20 minutes. The charging speed will be important to the Spark, since it will not have a gasoline engine backup like the Volt.

The Spark EV will be introduced this summer in California and Oregon. Sticker price is expected to be less than $25,000 after tax incentives.

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New UL/ULC Standards Open the Door for Greater Use of Low-Voltage Direct Current Systems

In a step forward for the Direct Current industry, The National Electrical Code (NEC) will publish standards for Low Voltage Suspended Ceiling Power Distribution Systems in 2014. Both the U.S. and Canada’s Underwriters Laboratories are working to harmonize the standards in both countries.

The standards will be contained in NEC Article 393, and will include those for low voltage peripheral equipment certified for use with the grid systems. Previously, only standards for lighting equipment were referenced. The move is partly due to efforts by the EMerge Alliance®, an industry association dedicated to the adoption of new standards for DC power distribution within commercial buildings. Nextek Power Systems is a member of their Governing Board.

The new standards open the door for both developers and users to implement a variety of systems and equipment, such as security systems, audio speakers, and HVAC controls into the commercial building environment.

In conjunction, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has updated and published the UL 2577 Outline of Investigation to expand its scope to allow for other low voltage peripheral equipment to be certified for use with the grid systems. That organization, which has standards development organization status in the U.S., will now work with its Canadian affiliate, ULC, to harmonize standards, since both countries have the ability to use low-voltage grid systems.

Low voltage suspended ceiling power distribution systems, now known as DC FlexZone Systems, were developed by Armstrong Industries in 2008. They send low-voltage (24VDC, which is safe to the touch) power directly through the grid, in lieu of wires. Equipment such as luminaires can simply be placed into the grid, and moved to different locations, without the need for expensive and time consuming rewiring.

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A Flow of Ideas: Linking Clean Water and Renewable Energy

Despite remarkable advancements in technology in the last century, the problem of potable drinking water for large segments of the world’s population persists. In fact, instead of alleviating the shortage of clean water, environmental and economic conditions in recent decades have contributed to its worsening. Today, as many as 1.2 billion people face shortages of drinking water. Global warming, which in many places manifests in protracted, devastating droughts, coupled with rapidly growing populations and developing economies, makes creating and maintaining clean water supplies a critical need. But the growth in need has been accompanied by a decrease in future sources of traditional—read nonrenewable—energy. The cost of producing such energy has increased dramatically (the price of oil, for example, has gone up approximately 1500 percent since the early 1970s) and shows a long-term trend of skyrocketing even further as reserves lessen and new sources prove more difficult to access.

Water, of course, covers about 70 percent of the earth’s surface, but almost all of that is seawater, so the issue becomes converting the vast quantities of saltwater into freshwater. But the conversion of saltwater into fresh is energy intensive. Consider that the production of desalinated water costs 2.1 times more than retrieving fresh groundwater and 70 percent more than surface water, as well as the fact that energy expenditures account for 60 to 70 percent of the day-to-day operating costs of a seawater conversion plant (according to an article published by The New York Times), and it becomes imperative to understand that the clean water issue is inseparable from that of developing feasible renewable energy sources.

Progress in the science of desalinization therefore must be accompanied by better water conservation techniques, and most importantly by developments in renewable energy technology.

In other words, make energy less expensive and feasible production of clean water will follow. Solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, wave and other forms of renewables, especially when used in combination, can provide virtually uninterruptable sources of power—power that can be harnessed to fuel the production of clean water from saltwater.

Further, the development of microgrid technology means several of these renewable technologies can be deployed at virtually any location, without connection to the main power grid. For example, some remote communities in Haiti now use portable solar power charging stations to provide energy for lighting, cooking and other needs, and connect their residents to the rest of the world for the first time in their lives. On a larger scale, such technology could eventually make community-based, remote desalinization operations possible around the world, improving health, sanitation, agriculture and more. This is a future in which governments, businesses and individuals can all participate.

Although the cost of renewable energy is today still higher than traditional sources, progress in the field’s technology indicates that discrepancy is rapidly diminishing, and that within the foreseeable future renewables will be cheaper to produce.

Advancements in the areas of clean water production and renewable energy must go forward hand-in-hand to provide the quantities of freshwater needed throughout the world in the future. The cost to develop these technologies will prove less than that of finding and extracting nonrenewables, and far less than the cost in quality of life for billions of people around the world if clean water remains out of their reach.

NOTE: This blog has been entered in the Masdar “Engage: The Water-Energy Nexus” contest. See the contest entries here: www.masdar.ae/engage. And please vote for our entry at http://masdar.ae/en/adsw/detail/how-to-vote.

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EMerge Alliance® Members Philips and Armstrong Ceilings Partner to Develop Lighting Solutions

EMerge Alliance® members Philips and Armstrong Ceilings have partnered to develop complete building lighting solutions that will accelerate the adoption of low-voltage Direct Current (DC) technologies. The solutions will be compatible with Armstrong’s DC FlexZone ceiling systems, a plug-and-play design that allows for maximum design flexibility and efficiency. FlexZone ceiling designs (as well as virtually all DC uses) integrate perfectly into Nextek Power Systems Direct Coupling® microgrid systems, which connect a variety of renewable power resources to building loads, without the usual power loss associated with inversion to AC power and the subsequent rectification back to DC.

A major advantage of such a system, as noted in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy, is its independence from the AC grid. Buildings sat without electrical power for days or weeks after the storm. DC Microgrid systems can operate both in conjunction with the grid, or, when necessary, in a completely stand-alone mode.

For more information about how a DC microgrid can work in your business environment, contact Nextek Power Systems at info@nextekpower.com.

For more information about Armstrong’s DC FlexZone ceiling systems, see http://www.armstrong.com/commceilingsna/article55189.html.

For information about the EMerge Alliance® see http://www.emergealliance.org/.

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Sustainable Energy For All (SE4ALL) Discussed at Solar Power International Conference

Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) is a United Nations initiative that has a goal of universal energy access by 2030. The effort is a cooperative among energy innovators and suppliers to bring electrical power to the estimated 100 million households that are still without it. The directive relies heavily on solar technology because of the relatively low cost in reaching remote communities. Nextek Power Systems supports the UN’s efforts and is involved in efforts to bring solar power to places like Haiti. In addition to providing electricity to impoverished areas, the introduction of the technology has also been shown to improve local economic development, public health, education, and environmental issues.

A video made at the recent Solar Power International conference features four industry professionals discussing the benefits and future of SE4ALL and solar power in general:

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Nextek Technology Featured at 2012 Michigan Lighting and Energy Conference

Nextek Power Systems’ Direct Current lighting technology was on display at the 2012 Michigan Lighting and Energy Conference on September 18, and was featured in a report on the CBS Detroit web site later that day. The Nextek display featured the company’s wireless DC lighting technology, which is designed to maximize design flexibility while minimizing lighting costs. The system connects to Nextek’s DC Microgrid technology, which relies primarily on renewable energy sources, such as solar, and incorporates AC grid power only when needed. Low-voltage DC power is supplied to an Armstrong DC FlexZone ceiling grid. The grid is a wireless drop ceiling design that carries the DC current, which is safe to the touch. This means that lighting panels can be placed or moved anywhere in the grid, without having to be wired, which translates into optimum lighting conditions for any room configuration.

Once installed, the lighting can be controlled remotely though an Internet application from a remote computer or smartphone, allowing users to turn lights on or off using an Internet connection.

The Electrical Industry Training Center is operated by the Southeast Michigan chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association and Local 58 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The EITC is often used as a demonstration center for the electrical industry, showcasing advanced lamps and fixtures, control hardware and software, and advances in solar and wind energy.

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DC Power Chosen for New Cruise Ship Construction

Scientists and engineers continue to find new ways to employ Direct Current (DC) power. According to an article on Forbes.com, a new 5,000-ton ship, which is due for completion in early 2013, will transfer power from the propulsion system using DC instead of the traditional AC (Alternating Current), eliminating the need for converters. The builders stated that a ship with a DC grid can cut power consumption by up to 20 percent. Most of the devices aboard ship—including appliances, computers, motors, and sensors—natively run on DC. The ship will be built by Swiss-Swedish company ABB, which will collaborate with Myklebusthaug Management. It will be designed to haul equipment and construction supplies for oil companies to offshore platforms. The article also talks about using DC power in buildings to cut consumption, and specifically mentions Nextek Power Systems, Inc. and the E-Merge Alliance. The switch to DC is another step in the ongoing comeback of Direct Current power delivery. DC was the power of choice of Thomas Edison in the late 1800s, however, due to a lack of transmission technology it became less popular than AC.

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EMerge, Nextek Part of Team Exploring Sustainable Lighting Systems

The EMerge Alliance is part of a team of companies exploring the use of solid-state lighting systems (SSL) that feature snap-in lighting tiles that can be easily adapted as space needs change. The effort was featured on the cover of LEDs Magazine’s July/August 2012 issue. EMerge is an open industry association developing standards leading to the rapid adoption of Direct Current power distribution in commercial buildings. Nextek Power Systems, Inc. is a founding member company.

The SSL effort is headed by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Lighting Research Center (LRC) and Osram Sylvania, which are working with Paramount Pictures in one of their conference rooms. The room is powered by a 24V DC grid that is compatible with the standard promoted by the EMerge Alliance. Two-foot-by-two-foot LED tiles snap into place along the grid as needed, and do not require modification of the room’s wiring as lighting needs change. The wall tiles use the same power grid—note the backlit posters in the room photo below. EMerge is currently working on standards for the wall grid.

The luminaires along each side of the centerline include diffusers and LED arrays for ambient lighting. The color-tunable light can be set to different hues depending on needs—blue or violet during a video presentation, white during a discussion session.

The system also uses a wireless controller (the device in the center of the table) to control room lighting. The switches on the box collect the tiny amount of

 

kinetic energy created when a person depresses a switch and use it to activate a microcontroller, which transmits commands to the fixtures. The wireless receiver in the fixtures is powered from the DC grid.

The system frees architects and designers from the restrictions of building wiring, and creates opportunities to re-imagine lighting spaces.

The project is funded in part by the California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research Program (PIER).

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Nextek Receives New UL Classification for Ballast Retrofit:Change Lets Customers Save by Switching to DC Ballasts

Nextek Power Systems Inc. has received a new Underwriters Laboratories classification that makes it possible to quickly and easily retrofit AC ballasts with safe, low-cost DC ballasts. The new classification, UL 2108, replaces UL 1598. A team of Nextek engineers and employees authored the document, with guidance from UL regarding safety certification requirements for this innovative retrofit product. The classification and Nextek’s instructions make it easy for building owners and managers to switch out AC ballasts and replace them with DC ballasts, which can reduce the cost of operating luminaires significantly.

Usually, no other changes to the luminaires or the lamps are necessary to accommodate the DC ballasts.

Paul Savage, Nextek Power System’s CEO, said, “We believe our low voltage DC lighting ballasts are the most efficient dimming fluorescent ballasts in the world. Connecting them to our Direct Coupling® Power Server Module (PSM) makes the total system the most efficient commercially available anywhere.

Nextek manufactures ballasts and power supplies for multiple types of T8, T5, CFL and Biax lamps, Emergency Ballasts, and DC Ceiling Fans.  All products are registered with the EMerge Alliance and compatible with that organization’s 24V DC Occupied Space standard.

To view the press release in its entirety, please see this article.

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