By Mark Smolinski (flmark)
NOTE: Some of you may be frustrated with the lack of EV charging options available at places you do business or even in community residences (i.e., apartment complexes). As a business owner and EV advocate, I hope to explain why we could not consider installing charging equipment until viable fluorescent bulb replacements came on the market. And hopefully, after you understand what is presented here, you’ll be able to take that knowledge and convince business and property owners that they can, indeed, consider EV charging for their customers and tenants.
To get to this headlined concept, it requires quite a bit of background first:
Some of us, most notably business owners, have to pay attention to how much electricity we are using AT THE MOMENT- not just overall. This is called the “demand charge.” The “demand” is measured in kilowatts (versus kilowatt-hours) and, depending on your location, is normally the highest rate of sustained energy usage over a short-term duration. Typically 15 or 30 minutes, if you are a demand customer, the utility has a watch on you for the worst time of your month. It doesn’t matter if you have your power turned OFF for 29 out of 30 days, if you turn on all your equipment for a short burst, you could pay hundreds of dollars just for this peak usage.
Allegedly, this charge is put there because the utility must build to this peak capacity utilization, and if you need more, you can pay through the nose. Typical residential customers can be blissfully ignorant of having to make sure to switch off one thing when you switch on another, as demand is not billed to them.
My first rude awakening to demand charges came when my electric bill rose to over $500, a figure that I had never even approached before. I called the utility and got an explanation, but then I had to figure out WHY demand had gone through the roof. It turns out that on just one morning, our Southwestern Florida had a bit of a chill. Our staff kicked on the heaters.
That meant electrical strip resistance heaters- on two air handlers. They only turned on the heat for a half hour or so, but that was enough for our demand to go to 38 kilowatts, a high we never again approached. Staff members were given warnings and heaters became off limits (it quickly warms here and heating is rarely required). If you run those numbers, you see that you are not far off from maxing out your standard 200 amp house breaker, and, at approximately $10/kw, you see that the demand charge was $380, or about 70 percent of the bill.
Flash forward a few years until just after we installed our 13 kw of solar on the roof. I had expected my bill to approach zero. Oops, forgot about that blasted demand charge. Solar PV does almost NOTHING to the demand charge, as it is your WORST time of the month that sets the rate, and we know the sun isn’t always shining. So, after spending $100,000 on solar for the roof, I started down a path of spending about another $40,000 to rid myself of more kwh and more kw. One shining (no pun intended) example is the water heater. Energy advocates would promote solar water heating or on-demand type water heaters. While these would lower your kwh overall, they don’t help with demand (and of course, on-demand electric water heaters would exacerbate the situation). A typical electric water heater would contribute about 5 or 6 kw to your demand reading, because that’s what the coils energize to when hot water is required, even just to wash your hands.
And the problem with solar water heating is that its backup (for cloudy days) are those blasted electric coils again. I have solar water heating at home, but at the office, I have installed a GE Geospring HEAT PUMP water heater, which I can set to never use those coils. So, instead of 5000-6000 watts of electricity, my heat pump water heater can be set to use just 550 watts.
Now let’s keep track of those demand numbers. I mentioned that our worst was 38 kw. Our typical demand reading (pre solar) was 18-24 kw. After I put in the solar, I was noticing we were sustaining numbers below 20 kw. It turns out that the magic number was 21 kw. If you never went above 21 kw, you could stop being a demand customer. However, there were no good graces allowed under Florida tariffs. If you hit 21 kw, you were a demand customer for the next 12 months. Absolutely aggravating. After I installed the solar, I had indeed already had NEGATIVE kwh usage for the month, but still paid over $100 in demand charges.
So beyond the heat pump water heater, we upgraded the air conditioning, put soy-based spray foam insulation in the attic, and applied solar film to the windows, among other things. After finding the right person at the utility, an inspector was sent out and we were removed from demand billing. Our bill went from $200 to $8 in an instant, and because they made it retroactive for a few months, we enjoyed a credit that lasted over a year.
Finally, I get back to the titled portion of this article. As I never wanted to again pay a demand charge, it seemed that installing an EV charging station was out of the question. The magic number was 21 kw and we had a healthy margin. Our typical demand fell to about 12 kw. But because of a lack of grace period, I had to ensure we never even approached 21 kw.
While your Volt won’t demand so much electricity, we already know that it is common for EVSEs to output 7 kw (6.6, actually) for other EVs (current, as well as planned models). Do the math and you see that 12 + 7 = 19, which is too blasted close to 21. I lamented, as we now call ourselves “Eco Sensitive Dentistry,” but putting an electric charging station threatened to roll our bill up hundreds of dollars a month- even if only one customer during that month used it.
Enter the latest iteration of green upgrades. We have A LOT of fluorescent tube fixtures. I had always hated the worst part of owning these fixtures, which was replacing the ballast. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the grand opening at our current location. And the ballast failure was just starting to show its head. I had replaced a couple last year- over my head and in a very awkward position against the wall. And the ballasts aren’t cheap- which is what made this whole thing viable from so many standpoints.
You may balk at the cost of T8 replacement LED bulbs for your cheap, mercury filled tubes (I paid approximately $40 per tube for the latest batch of LED tubes), but if it is time to replace ballast, the financial equation quickly becomes a no-brainer.
LED tube replacements are superior for so many reasons. LEDs have the characteristic of directional light. But if those bulbs were only pointed down in the first place, all the light goes where you need it.
Subsequently, I found that one LED tube produced nearly as much light as two fluorescent bulbs. The tubes use about half as much electricity, so if you can put in only half as many bulbs, you cut electrical usage by 75 percent. The lighting “temperature” can vary. We put in “daylight white” (nice and bright) for treatment areas. When I put these in my wife’s personal office, they were stark. So, I put in “warm white” in a few places, making the lighting quality preferable to fluorescent tubes, where “atmosphere” was important. And of course, now there will also be less energy wasted as heat, which lowers air conditioning usage.
In a business, you keep those bulbs on all the time and that adds up to a lot of kwh AND measureable kw of demand. Well, I FINALLY just placed the last of my 4 ft led replacements yesterday. There were slightly less than a hundred (I’ll round up) that replaced approximately 200 fluorescents.
Since it has taken me several weeks, I am already seeing the demand number reflected at the meter. As mentioned, 12 kw was a pretty reliable demand number to see. The meter, about to be zeroed again for meter reading time, sits at 9.1 kw.
Where we live in Charlotte County, we do not have an urgent need to run out and get an EVSE. There are only 9 Volts in the county (and we own two of them). It just doesn’t act as much of an incentive for increased business … yet. However, it was, and remains, a goal. Patients are usually in the chair longer than they would be at a restaurant. It was never about the kwh. No matter what, it would be less than a dollar per charge. It was that blasted demand issue. I had scraped every electric item down to the minimum and given up on ever installing an EVSE. It wasn’t until I had to replace those fluorescent ballasts that I took a step back and looked at ALL
those tubes…and the MASSIVE amount of capital, and effort, that lay ahead of me in ballast replacement, that I decided to investigate LED tube replacements. With each LED tube I placed, I realized that I would probably never have my head in that fixture again. And that may have been the best part. [Incidentally, there is no need to actually physically remove the old ballast. Just clip its wires and bypass it before installing led replacement tubes.]
So, if you have fluorescent tubes, investigate led replacements. Yes, they are expensive. But knowing that you may never have to deal with the bulb (or its ballast) again may be a deciding factor. I have read that as municipalities switch over to LED street lighting, they are doing it for one big reason- labor. Most street lights are unmetered and contracts prevent (at least in the short term) savings via lower electric bills. However, cities that put in LED street lamps (and traffic signals, etc), are finding that their labor savings are tremendous.
And if you are ever driving along I-75 in Southwest Florida, our dental office is just off Exit 170. At some point soon, I hope to have an EVSE installed. Once we do, I will invite you to stop and charge up your Volt while you fill your stomachs at one of our nearby restaurants. And if you just happen to be experiencing oral troubles at the same time, we can determine what ails you. And when you lean back in the chair, you’ll be able to look up and realize that those LED light bulbs get a lot of the credit for being able to recharge your car while the nitrous takes you off to lah-lah land.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 at 5:55 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.