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The Surprising Connection Between Cholesterol and Electricity—and What It Means for Facilities

Apr 20, 2023 | Public | 0 comments

For many people, the term “cholesterol” is associated with serious health issues such as heart problems, clogging of the arteries, and stroke. But doctors will tell you that not all cholesterol is created equal. HDL, high-density lipoprotein, is considered by doctors today to be “good” cholesterol, while LDL, low-density lipoprotein, is “bad.” It took doctors a couple of centuries to discover the differences—and now they recommend actually raising HDL levels as a healthy heart strategy.

We can extend that simile to the world of power generation. There’s “good” electricity—the kind that is produced by renewable sources, including wind and solar, with near-zero carbon footprint and super-low generation costs—and “bad” electricity—the kind generated by fossil fuels, with all the attendant pollution and high generation costs. In 2021, fossil fuel power plants produced an average of nearly two pounds of carbon pollutants per kilowatt-hour, accounting for 99% of CO2 electricity-related emissions.

All that CO2 comes with a big price. Data shows that some 40% of global CO2 emissions come from electricity generation sourced in the fossil fuels used to generate heat needed to power steam turbines. Without massive changes in the way we generate power very soon, the world and the people in it will face a great deal of suffering, to say the least.

Thinking About What Kind of Power—Not How Much

What can—or should—we do to avoid that scenario? Among the main traditional suggestions has been reducing the use of electricity—cutting out power-hungry appliances, lowering the thermostat, even unplugging appliances when not in use. But for many people, this isn’t a workable scenario—and it’s irrelevant to buildings, factories, warehouses, and other large facilities. Electricity-based heating, cooling, and ventilation systems alone account for nearly half of overall energy use in commercial buildings, to say nothing of lights, computer systems, and much more—and those electricity needs are unlikely to change.

Rather, we need to focus on when we use electricity and which power sources it is coming from; we should think not about cutting back on energy use, but about shifting to the good type of energy—that made from renewable sources. The main challenge in this quest is that many sources of renewable energy, especially solar, are limited to certain times of day, when the sun is shining.

This means that during the day, when both utility power grids and private on-premise solar energy systems are generating energy, the amount of electricity used does not matter. In fact, there’s no reason not to use as much solar-based electricity as you want—and then some. It’s cheap, emits almost zero carbo, and enables us to live the lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to, without the need to compromise on anything.

But what about during the hours when the sun isn’t shining and producing power? It is during these hours, from late afternoon through evening, that many power demands actually increase; buildings need to provide hot water for showers, run air-conditioning, and increasingly, provide electricity for charging electric vehicles. And it is overwhelmingly fossil-fuel-based, or “bad,” electricity that is being used during these peak times. Not only that, but this fossil-fuel-based energy is often coming from peaker plants, designed to kick in when there is not enough sun to produce solar power. These plants are often less efficient than full-time fossil-fuel-based plants, making the electricity used during these times of an extra-bad, carbon-intensive variety.

Energy Storage Is Key

The main goal should be finding a way to avoid these bad sources, and using the good, renewable sources of energy, even at night or other times when they are not being produced. This is happening already to some extent.

Utilities are using more advanced energy storage solutions to enable solar-generated power to be stored for those off-hours. But there are also a plethora of other strategies, so-called behind-the-meter solutions, where large buildings and facilities store utility-provided electricity made from renewable sources during the day for use when the sun sets. Some of these solutions actually entail using additional electricity during the day—when it is coming from clean sources—to produce different types of energy that can be stored as heat, ice, water, or in other forms, then used at night in place of the fossil-fuel-based energy that comes from the grid during those hours.

It is critical that more buildings and large facilities embrace these solutions. Just as researchers discovered that good cholesterol could benefit heart patients by reducing bad cholesterol levels, more good solar-based electricity will provide the power we need, enabling us to move away from the bad fossil-fuel-based electricity that is causing us so much harm. If there was ever a case to be made for “good” and “bad,” it’s the one for solar-based vs. fossil-fuel-based electricity use—and the more of the good we embrace using energy storage, the better for all of us.

Boaz Ur is chief business development officer at Nostromo Energy, which makes water-based energy storage solutions for buildings.

The post The Surprising Connection Between Cholesterol and Electricity—and What It Means for Facilities appeared first on Facilities Management Advisor.

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