NYPA managing electricity as well as generating it

Conserving power part of effort
Two new transformers move through Schoharie County to NYPA's pumped storage facility in November.
Two new transformers move through Schoharie County to NYPA's pumped storage facility in November.

The New York Power Authority is expanding its efforts to manage and conserve electricity, with real-time technology showing building managers in government, non-profits and businesses how to cut the cost of running their facilities.

The new technology, called New York Energy Manager, is already in use at 3,300 state-owned buildings, and the goal is to bring a total of 20,000 buildings online over the next five years. Later this year, NYPA will start offering the service to other governmental entities, schools, non-profits and the 877 businesses the authority supplies with low-cost electricity.

Over a 10-year period, assuming a 5-percent energy savings, New York Energy Manager is projected to cut $215 million in energy costs at the state’s largest buildings — those measuring 20,000 square feet or larger.

NYPA has set up a new control center for the technology at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany, and a month ago, it brought on a new vice president, Emilie Bolduc, to push expansion of the services and clients under the program.

The initiative stems from a 2012 executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which outlined a larger effort to reduce use of fossil fuels statewide, including by increasing efficiency. The order put NYPA in charge of the effort and gave it a target of reducing energy use by 20 percent at state buildings by the year 2020.

To accomplish this, NYPA streams data from inside and outside buildings to a digital dashboard. The data is then analyzed, and the buildings’ managers are shown how to use the information to cut power usage.

“We can provide that situational awareness,” Bolduc told The Daily Gazette on Thursday. “You can’t make a change like that unless you see it and know it.”

New York Energy Manager offers a varying amount of data to customers, depending on the service chosen. Data can be provided at monthly intervals, or every 15 minutes, or — with meters installed on critical systems — continuously, which offers the most detailed insight into the energy performance and costs, and to possible savings. Data points include electricity and natural gas usage; interior and exterior air temperature and humidity; fresh air intake; steam use; and heated and chilled water. It’s all presented through a user-friendly web portal.

One of the best examples of what is possible with the improved feedback is at the University at Albany, right next door to NYPA’s Fuller Road office.

On the wall of glowing screens inside the dimly-lit control center, Bolduc points to a day-by-day readout of electrical use at the college library, which is open around the clock. It’s a line that looks a lot like a heart rate on a monitor, rising in the day and dipping at night. She contrasts the readout before and after lighting, climate control and other changes were made, based on data gleaned from New York Energy Manager. The peak use is about the same, but the off-peak use is sharply lower — about 100 kilowatts less. Multiply that by 365 days, and with reduced heating and cooling efforts during break periods, and the savings is expected to reach $250,000 a year.

The program is free to state agencies. Outside customers are charged a rate that will be competitive with private-sector electrical management firms that provide similar services, Bolduc said. The fee will vary based on the amount of data involved and whether NYPA does additional services, such as metering. (For statutory reasons, NYPA cannot directly provide the service to businesses to which it does not sell electricity; it may, however, work with them indirectly, through other entities, if only to process their data.)

Bolduc, a certified energy manager, previously worked for Ecova, a Washington company that offers similar services to utilities and their commercial and industrial customers. 

She said a few things set New York Energy Manager apart from similar services offered by utilities: First, it is part of a larger initiative, called Reforming the Energy Vision, put forth by Cuomo to shift the state to renewable forms of energy. Second, NYPA uses the data to make recommendations for energy-efficiency projects, helps implement them and reports the savings back to the customer. It is the first system in the nation designed to integrate all of a state’s facilities into a single network to save energy.

Bolduc said energy management can boost energy efficiency by 5 to 20 percent for private-sector users. The conservative estimate is that New York state-owned sites will realize a 5 percent increase in efficiency, she added.

The challenge in improving the energy efficiency of thousands of state buildings is that there is such a wide variation in them, from a small, regional office that opened last year to a massive prison that dates to the 1800s. So there isn’t a single formula, or even a menu of formulas, that can be applied to buildings.

There’s also a different person at each building running the power systems, which is why human training is an important part of New York Energy Manager. If the on-site administrators are able to interpret the data, know what to do with it and understand why it is important to do so, they are more likely to take effective steps to reduce energy usage.

Down the road, NYPA could implement remote controls to do on-site energy management right from its control center.

“We’re set up to do a lot in the future,” Bolduc said.

About NYPA

Some facts about the New York Power Authority:

  • CREATED by New York state in 1931
  • LARGEST state-run utility in the nation 
  • PROVIDES low-cost power to encourage economic development
  • OPERATES 16 power generation plants
  • MAINTAINS 1,400 miles of transmission lines
  • HYDROPOWER plants in Clifton Park, Colonie and Blenheim-Gilboa
  • EXPECTS revenue of $2.74 billion in 2017
  • FUNDS itself with investment income (1%) and sale of electricity (99%)

Categories: -News-, Business, Schenectady County

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