I enjoy blogging about the intersection of project management and sustainability, and sometimes people think this is ‘only’ about project management applied to ‘green’ projects, like building a wind farm or saving a species. To illustrate this, when we published our Cleland Award-winning book, Green Project Management back in 2010, the book covers submitted to us all had themes of daisies, windmills, and solar panels, as if to say, the intersection of PM and sustainability is about doing projects which save energy or whales. While many (perhaps most) of my posts are more about taking a long-term view as a project manager, and integrating sustainable thinking into project decisions, this particular one happens to be one of those posts that is indeed about that ‘pure’ intersection – so feel free to imagine daisies, windmills, solar panels, and (in this case) voltage optimization.
What is voltage optimization? It’s a sort of re-volting (if you will) the power supply to a facility – especially one that uses a lot of electrical power.
One vendor that makes products that do this is Powerstar, and it’s from their web page that I adapt this explanation of how voltage optimization works:
Power from the energy supplier is supplied at a higher voltage than necessary due to old electrical distribution networks in place which were designed to operate at higher voltage levels, as well as electricity suppliers being required to ensure all buildings are supplied voltage within set parameters.
If a building is being supplied at a higher voltage than necessary it will likely result in a mass of wasted energy, excessive levels of carbon emissions, and higher than necessary electricity bills in addition to power quality issues, including increased wear and reduced lifespan of electrical equipment. We’re talking about motors and fans and any other electrical equipment lasting longer – a reduction in waste in and of itself.
In addition to reducing energy consumption, cutting carbon emissions and providing savings on electricity bills, voltage optimization can also improve power quality by balancing phase voltages and filtering harmonics and transients from the network operators supply.
Voltage optimization technologies are typically installed in series between the distribution transformer and the main low voltage distribution board, allowing all of the consumer’s electrical equipment to benefit from an optimized power supply.
And here is a more detailed description, for those of you who are just a little more science-minded:
Does this voltage optimization technique work? Well, a recent story from excellent sustainability resource edie.net gives an example of a Spanish cheese company that saved 98,000kWh annually after installing such a system.
But this cheesy example is by no means an exception. In just a few moments of research I found examples of such levels of savings in government buildings, trailer parks, burger restaurants, Air Force bases – all sorts of enterprises.
Here’s a video that shows how Paragon Foods, for example, achieved savings and reductions of its carbon footprint.
Powerstar is not the only player in this business. Here’s a site that shows some of the other top players.
And yes, I did mention an Air Force base, it happens to be a Royal Air Force (RAF) base, and here is an example of a PowerPerfector® deployment.
Case Study from PowerPerfector – RAF
Does this really work? It sounds a bit too good to be true, but it does work. See this study, written up by the Environmental Defense Fund’s blog:
A study by Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd) looking at this technology’s potential within Chicago and northern Illinois found it could reduce the need for almost 2,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity (enough to power 180,000 homes) each year at an amazingly low cost of less than two cents per kilowatt-hour – more than is achieved now from the utility’s other efficiency programs. This translates to $240 million per year in savings for ComEd’s customers, of which 90 percent could potentially benefit. The study also suggested full deployment of voltage optimization would only take about five years.
And the connection to project management? Well that should be obvious. Each of these deployments of a voltage optimization system is – you guessed it – a project.
Here's a visual to accentuate this point:
Here is (from Powerstar) their project management process:
Now, I would argue that the project management element of this chart should be at the hub, overseeing the whole process, but that is a blog post for another day…