Maine’s Impending Energy Crisis

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We have been watching the natural gas storm on the horizon for some time, and this is the first major lightning strike.  We’ve theorized that LNG (liquefied natural gas) would be exported to Europe soon, raising prices for all gas consumers in the United States.  While that is still probable, there is a more immediate, domestic dilemma that Maine residents and small business owners will soon face.

It hasn’t been a secret that we have limited natural gas pipeline availability in New England, and the major pipelines coming to us from the south are not nearly large enough to meet the requirements for our demanding heating season.  For example, since July, Maine Natural Gas has been unable to connect new customers to the gas mains until an uncertain date in 2015 (we suspect it will be late in the year).  While at Thayer we strive to remain fuel-neutral, we question whether it is in everyone’s best interest to connect to natural gas, with many reasons listed in one of our previous articles (read more here).

The Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC), along with representatives from other state agencies, has issued a press release to the public, warning them to prepare for a surge in the price of electricity during the upcoming winter months.  Over half of the electricity in Maine is generated from natural gas.  Increased demand for gas and an inability to meet that demand has directly caused the price of electricity for Mainers to skyrocket.  While homeowners will not see price spikes until March of 2015, small-to-medium businesses should brace for impact since rates will more than double for standard rate customers by January; CMP customers, for example, will see price spikes from $.06 to $.15 cents per kilowatt hour, according to the press release.

Individual consumers and businesses alike make financial decisions based on electricity being available at predictable costs; not priced on crisis.  The fact of the matter is that the natural gas pipeline is constricted, and that is not going to change for several years at best.  After the method of funding new pipelines is determined, political wills of many must align.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do before the onslaught of this energy crisis; all relating to energy efficiency.  Both Michael Stoddard, Executive Director of Efficiency Maine, and Tom Welch, Commission Chairman of Maine Public Utilities Commission believe that now is the perfect opportunity to take a proactive stance and make energy efficient decisions.  At the beginning of October, the MPUC has approved the increased allocation of funding to Efficiency Maine.

There are a number of changes to existing programs, which when combined with the rising cost of energy actually makes for better incentives, equaling quicker payback.  We have effectively bundled several of the existing Efficiency Maine programs with new ones to yield larger incentives for our client/partners.  Call one of our project engineers today and have your building benchmarked using the Energy Star rating system, which will give you a starting point of things to consider.  There are almost always cost effective improvements that can be made to make you more money.

LED Lights Grow Smaller And Smarter

LED Lights Grow Smaller and Smarter

LED Carpet Rug

Grab a strand of hair from your head, and examine it.  Now imagine if that strand were 10,000 times thinner, and what you’ll be holding will be the equivalent size of future light emitting diode (LED) lights.  At the thickness of only three atoms, Scientists Xiaodong Xu and Jason Ross at the University of Washington have developed the thinnest possible LED lights.

LEDs have been around for many years, though only recently has their usage become widespread in exterior vehicle lighting, traffic lights, signs, seasonal and interior lighting.  LEDs create light by electroluminescence, which is the phenomenon of material emitting light when electricity passes through it.  Electroluminescence was discovered in 1907 independently by scientists H. J. Round and Oleg Losev. In addition to light-emitting applications, this technology could open doors for using light as “interconnects,” to run nano-scale computer chips instead of standard devices that operate off the movement of electrons, or electricity. The latter process creates a lot of heat and wastes power, whereas sending light through a chip to achieve the same purpose would be highly efficient.

As the size and price of LEDs decreases, new applications are arriving to the marketplace in the construction industry.  Lights can be more easily integrated directly into building materials such as paneling, moldings, ceiling tiles and even flexible carpets.  Some very interesting uses are being experimented with using portable rugs and carpets for children with neurological disorders such as autism. When affected children are experiencing extreme mood changes such as tantrums, multicolored LEDs can be activated within a carpet remotely to produce calming effects.  Cutting edge research is attempting to correlate the impact of light color and pulsation on brainwave activity.  Different patterns of light can also be used to evoke stimulating brain activity as well. One can only imagine what possibilities lay ahead in the medical arena.

In another more novel application, two global leaders in lighting and carpeting recently announced a partnership to develop “light transmissive carpets,” capable of turning floors into displays.  The key was to replace the traditional rubber carpet backing with something that could transmit light and stand up to the heavy wear and tear of foot traffic.  The result was a thin steel screen containing an array of ultrathin LEDs.

One of the first applications for the new floor covering will be for animated signage on the floors of airports, theaters, hotels and other public areas, not only to guide people to their destination but also to facilitate efficient evacuation in the case of an emergency.  From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the lighted carpet could not only enhance ambience but declutter busy areas making information visible only when it’s needed.  From there, it’s only a matter of time before we’ll see it incorporated into interactive gaming technologies.

These new applications stretch the imagination and get us excited about the future but here at Thayer Corp we are integrating new LED features into buildings today. Unlike incandescent or fluorescent lights, LEDs have linear dimming characteristics, meaning that light levels and power consumption is directly proportional to the setting 0-100%.  Combined with Smart control features, we can program light levels to follow daylight patterns, time-of-day usage patterns, occupancy and security needs.  A wireless controller such as a smart phone, tablet or PC can be used to adjust programming.  In an occasionally used room, such as a conference room, light can be set at 5-10% levels yet immediately jump to 100% upon occupancy via integrated motion detection and return to the user selected unoccupied levels during normal working hours and completely off during unoccupied, non-working hours. The motion of forklifts in warehouses can immediately activate lighting without warm-up delays and return them to preprogrammed ambient light level minimums for life safety requirements once the activity passes.

We often forget the impact of after-hours housekeeping on energy consumption.  It’s quite normal for housekeeping to flip on all the lights for six to eight hours at night while a very small crew moves within large buildings cleaning. Smart controls could be programmed to allow the light to “follow” their movement, greatly reducing energy use without compromising their effectiveness or safety.

Parking lot lights can be dimmed to some preset level such as 30-40% after evening hours, yet immediately all come up to 100% the moment any motion is detected anywhere in the lot. Would-be vandals and burglars might be a bit startled!

Dimmability, smart controllability, and steadily declining prices are making LED lighting a more cost-effective choice while we wait for the more innovative and cutting-edge applications to become commercialized.  Ask our experts for an audit today and how you might qualify for incentives from Efficiency Maine.

 

Dan

 


Dan Thayer, P.E.

President