Trendspotting: US States Warming up to Renewable Energy Heating and Cooling, Part 2

If states are going to add a heating requirement to their RPS or even allow heat energy to be applicable, monitoring and metering will be key and that can be problematic.
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* Fairfield - Iowa - US

Aug. 14, 2012 - PRLog -- First of all, in the U.S. heat is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs) whereas electricity is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh) or megawatt-hours (MWh).

NEWP’s Niebling said that the U.S. and the U.K. are the only places in the world where heat is measured differently than electricity. ‘In the rest of the world, at least outside of the U.K., everybody measures heat in MW- and kW-hours,’ he said. ‘But the simple fact is that both heat and electricity can be measured, can be metered and are measured and metered in the same units,’ added Niebling.  The conversion is a straight kWh to BTU mathematical equation whereas 1 kWh = 3412.141 BTUs.  Plus, said Niebling, ‘heat meters have been around for decades and they are no different than an electricity meter.’ He said in Europe where district heating is in use, heat measurement tools are ubiquitous.

‘[In Europe] The home will have a heat meter and it is measuring the temperature and the flow rate of the water coming into the home and then it is measuring the temperature and the flow rate of the water leaving the home and the delta between the two is the amount of heat energy being used,’ he explained. ‘It is standard, off-the-shelf foolproof stuff,’ he said.

EOS Research’s Ron Gehl, whose company produces monitoring and measurement equipment for thermal energy, echoes that sentiment. ‘The fact of the matter is that it is not very difficult to monitor and measure BTUs.  We’ve been doing it in systems for years and years,’ he said.

Gehl mentions two stumbling blocks on the way to widespread adoption of thermal energy metering and monitoring.  First, is the additional cost for smaller systems.  He said that for larger systems, particularly solar water heating, measurement tools are already included.  ‘The majority of commercial and industrial type systems these days are including BTU monitoring and measurement aspects. It’s not that difficult to do particularly when you look at it being such a tiny proportion of the overall cost of such a system,’ he said.

‘The difficulty comes in coming up with something that is fairly accurate at low enough cost for any old two-panel residential hot water system.  That’s a bit more of a higher threshold to reach as far as making it inexpensive enough for more widespread use,’ he explained.

Heatspring’s Williams who consults on the sales side of solar thermal systems makes another point regarding the cost of residential systems. ‘The cost to monitor it is around $1,000 for Sunreports,’ he said. But ‘in PV, it’s built into the cost, it already comes with the inverter. So it makes selling it difficult because you are trying to sell a residential solar thermal system for $8,000 and then in order to monitor it, it’s another grand.’

Williams said this is one of the ‘catch-22’s’ of solar thermal technology.  It is so cheap already that the additional cost of monitoring seems enormous.

In order to alleviate the additional cost of monitoring smaller systems, some states like Maryland allow ‘modeled output’ rather than metered output to count towards renewable energy goals for systems under a certain size. Gehl thinks that workaround makes sense for now, but he’d rather see the industry figure out how to measure the output and use of small and large systems alike.

‘I think from a consumer perspective it will become increasingly important to know exactly what the output of a system is,’ he said, also pointing out that reliable, measurable numbers will help the industry to gain more credibility.

Gehl would like to see a national standard in place and said that the industry is working toward having one adopted. He believes that once there are nationally recognised standards for measuring and monitoring thermal renewable energy, more widespread use of the technology will result.  He said that the industry is working on creating an ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standard regarding BTU metering. ‘That is something that will need to be more widely recognised,’ he said.  But once it is, ‘at that point in time it’s no different than having a kWh meter on a PV system,’ he said. Gehl expects to see a national standard by the end of the year.

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ECS offers clean energy solutions for project developers, financiers, and other parties looking for sound investment opportunities in clean energy heating projects. We offer a variety of services including but not limited to feasibility studies, project planning, risk assessment, technical design and engineering, project permitting, project management, and more. Contact us today to discuss your project.


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