Remote Monitoring Empowers Solar Contractor
Maintenance Technology | May 15, 2017
Solar-power systems that take the sting out of energy costs are effectively monitored with a state-of-the-art tool and cloud-based data system.
NuEra Energy Designs is a Newport Beach, CA-based contracting firm that works with industrial and commercial businesses to improve their energy efficiency and to find ways to save money, typically by designing and installing solar systems and associated electrical equipment.
NuEra’s work starts with load studies and extensive evaluation of building-power systems and equipment. If appropriate, solar solutions and backup and demand-control systems are designed and built based on those studies.
A key selling point of NuEra services to customers is a welcome, often near-immediate return on investment as a result of reduced energy bills, depreciation, and the potential to obtain energy and tax credits. In some cases, installation of solar systems and electrical upgrades delivers net revenue to clients who are then able to put power back into the energy grid.
Contractor, problem solver
Ken Dodds, the company owner and chief energy analyst, has established himself over the years as an electronics and electricity problem solver. He became a California-licensed contractor in the 1970s. His early projects were delivering power to remote ranches and other installations in the Mojave Desert, where it can be cost prohibitive to run conventional electrical lines. He has designed and built portable and off-grid solar systems to operate well pumps, power ranch homes, and illuminate street lights on remote military bases, complete with battery or multi-generator backup systems.
Though he started NuEra in Arizona more than six years ago, Dodds does the bulk of his business in California where the high cost of power helps makes solar systems a legitimate option for commercial customers. Add in energy savings through lighting, HVAC, and other electrical upgrades and the cost savings become substantial.
“One manufacturing-facility customer went from paying what would be $23,000 per year at today’s rates for energy (their old rate was a bit less), to getting $90 in return from the utility less than two years later,” Dodds stated.
Monitoring and documenting
To efficiently document studies and identify such savings, Dodds uses the Fluke 3540 FC three-phase power monitor (Fluke Corp., Everett, WA, fluke.com) to track three-phase systems at his client’s plants. The monitor takes power analysis and logging to a new level by putting the data stream onto data servers. Dodds is then able to remotely read and analyze these power measurements, depending on the configuration:
• current (A)
• voltage (V)
• frequency (Hz)
• power (W)
• apparent power (VA)
• non-active power (var)
• power factor (PF)
• total harmonic distortion voltage (%)
• total harmonic distortion current (%)
• harmonic content current (A).
The information is streamed from the Fluke 3540 FC to secure cloud servers where the measurements can be analyzed with the Fluke Connect mobile app or Fluke Condition Monitoring desktop software. Graphs show trends and fluctuations during the monitoring period. Dodds sets up alarms to indicate when the power is outside certain thresholds.
Monitoring the data gives Dodds a signature of the building, from the main feeders and on into critical pieces of equipment. “First, it lets us know where best to attack the building to make changes, or see if we can fix something upfront,” he said. “We look at kilowatts, we monitor the voltage, we look at use times. We can tell if the loading is off on different legs of the three phase, important because if it’s not uniform, you’re going to have issues.”
Easily shared, reliable data
The data is useful to a wide range of workers. “The power-monitoring system not only educates our electricians to a problem,” Dodds stated. “If I’m worried about a motor or another big expensive piece of equipment, I can see trend graphs on what’s happening with the machine on my tablet or phone.”
Dodds connected a Fluke 3540 FC at one manufacturing plant recently so he could watch, in real time, the power going into the building, as well as the power going back to the grid from the solar system. “This is really valuable to me, especially for knowing what happened to the power I sent back to the utility. That is what they are paying my customer for so it’s verifying that,” he explained. “If my data shows I’m sending 15 kilowatts and the utility only shows 5 kilowatts, I can question that and we can figure what’s going on.”
Recently, the system allowed him to identify energy waste. “I discovered the other day a compressor was kicking on in the middle of the night. I called the building supervisor to see if anyone was working at that time. He said no, so we knew having the compressor on was a waste of money. You are paying for air to go leak around the plant. So these are some of the types of savings we find.”
The 3540 also provides power-factor data, a measure of real and apparent power, which can be a reason for the demand charges being high. “The convenience of monitoring energy consumption from anywhere is huge,” Dodds said. “I can use it in the car, when I’m on a roof or in the office or at the coffee shop or at home, wherever. My phone goes whoop whoop, when an alarm goes off. I check and I know what an asset is doing. It only takes a second to look at and read it. From anywhere, you can answer a text or send an e-mail. It’s exciting to see it develop.” MT
For more about the Fluke 3540 FC monitor, supporting software, and cloud-based data handling, visit fluke.com.