This year, the National Electric Code (NEC) introduced a new class of powering systems, marking the fourth class defined since 1897. This ground-breaking development is making headlines in the electrical engineering community and has the potential to significantly transform the design, construction, and management of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) facilities. The new system is called Fault Managed Power (FMP). Nate Bender, a principal for Constellation’s Technology Venture group (CTV), discusses his enthusiasm for FMP and its implications for the CEA industry. CTV is an investor in VoltServer, the first company to successfully produce and sell “fault managed power” systems.

Nate Bender

What is Fault Managed Power (FMP)?
Since the invention of electricity, there has always been a trade-off between its usefulness and safety. To power high-powered devices, we needed high voltage AC, which is hazardous. Therefore, safely wiring a structure can require time-consuming, and complex wiring methods. If we wanted fast, simple, low-cost wiring methods, we could only power low-powered devices, such as PoE cameras. FMP is the first intelligent power distribution system that instantly recognizes unsafe events, like someone touching an exposed wire, and shuts off quickly to prevent injury. Due to this safety feature, the NEC allows FMP to be installed using low-voltage wiring methods, like those used for Ethernet cables. Additionally, FMP’s intelligence provides users with control and monitoring features that would be prohibitively expensive using traditional AC. This level of intelligence creates numerous opportunities for companies to design their facilities, reduce installation costs and time, and lower their power expenses.

How could FMP help CEA businesses reduce their electricity costs?
There are two ways. First, it allows CEA facilities to design more efficient systems. For example, VoltServer’s solution for grow rooms enables facilities to centralize large high voltage DC power supplies in an electrical room and distribute high voltage DC power directly to equipment such as LEDs, fans, and PLC controllers. This design significantly saves energy due to more efficient power supplies, reduced transmission losses, better heat management, and easy phase balancing.

Second, FMP makes it easier for CEA facilities to take advantage of pricing programs offered by energy producers. Commercial energy bills often include charges not found on residential bills, such as demand charges, power factor charges, time of use rates, and phase imbalance charges. Understanding these fees is crucial for reducing electricity bills using FMP systems.

Demand charges, for example, cover the cost of moving electricity to a customer and increase with the maximum load placed on the infrastructure. This charge is based on peak load, or the highest amount of electricity used over a prior period. Many customers may not realize that demand charges can sometimes be higher than the cost of the electricity itself.

How can FMP help vertical farms reduce demand charges?
VoltServer’s FMP system is intelligent, allowing software control and visibility into each 600W circuit. Growers can define and prioritize lighting zones, ensuring that certain zones never exceed a power threshold. For example, if the AC system turns on, the LEDs can be automatically dimmed to maintain the threshold. This level of control offers various ways to manage peak load, enabling growers to participate seamlessly in demand response programs that pay producers to reduce their load during specific periods. This capability can also help manage time of use rates.

What are time of use rates?
Time of use rates refer to fluctuations in electricity costs throughout the day. Prices are usually higher during peak consumption times, typically between 4:00pm and 9:00pm, and lowest during off-peak periods, like the middle of the night. CEA is ideal for “load-shifting.” Growers can avoid on-peak rates by dimming lights and providing extra light during off-peak periods without impacting yields. VoltServer’s Digital Electricity software enables users to define zones and control each individual LED, making it easy to take advantage of such strategies.

What is power factor, and how does VoltServer’s Digital Electricity improve it?
Power factor refers to the ratio of useful electricity to the total energy consumed. Some electricity usage not only consumes power but also pushes power back onto the line or causes voltage and current to be out of phase. This results in more current flowing in the circuit than required for the end-use, and the customer must consume even more power to compensate. The Department of Energy considers a power factor of 0.9 to be good, but it is common for large commercial operations to have power factors below 0.85. Every 0.01 increase in power factor can result in a 1-2% reduction in electricity costs. VoltServer’s Digital Electricity maintains a power factor close to 1.0, as all load is filtered through its centralized intelligent DC power supplies and optimized using software. This ensures you are always getting the full benefit of the electricity you pay for.

What is phase balancing, and how does VoltServer help improve it?
Phase balancing is the process of evenly distributing electrical loads across the three phases in a three-phase electrical system. Ideally, loads connected to each phase should be equal, resulting in balanced currents and voltages throughout the system. A well-balanced system ensures optimal performance, energy efficiency, and minimized costs. However, achieving perfect phase balancing in a building can be costly and time-consuming, so it’s typically somewhat unbalanced. This imbalance leads to higher energy costs, increased transmission losses, reduced equipment efficiency, and increased demand charges. VoltServer’s FMP system helps improve phase balancing, leading to reduced energy costs, improved system efficiency, and minimized risks associated with poor phase balancing.

Are there downsides to Fault Managed Power?
As with any innovation challenging the status quo, there will be resistance in the market. This has been seen with renewable energy and EV chargers. In the case of FMP, some equipment manufacturers may resist change. For instance, LED drivers and controls represent a significant portion of the cost of LED lighting. FMP not only eliminates drivers but also includes sophisticated control and monitoring features. The good thing is that many forward-thinking LED companies are already embracing FMP due to its environmental and financial benefits for their customers.

Electricity seems complicated. What else should I know?
Managing the market risk of fluctuating power prices and the complexity of customer power needs is one of the benefits of working with a competitive power supplier like Constellation. Moreover, electricity bills can vary widely depending on the utility and region. For large multi-site operations, billing across different utilities presents its challenges, which is why Constellation offers utility expense management through the Pear.ai platform. This platform helps customers identify outliers between locations and inconsistencies in bills.

About Constellation
Headquartered in Baltimore, Constellation Energy Corporation (Nasdaq: CEG) is the nation’s largest producer of clean, carbon-free energy and a leading supplier of energy products and services to businesses, homes, community aggregations and public sector customers across the continental United States, including three fourths of Fortune 100 companies. With annual output that is nearly 90% carbon-free, our hydro, wind and solar facilities paired with the nation’s largest nuclear fleet have the generating capacity to power the equivalent of 15 million homes, providing around 10% of the nation’s clean energy. We are further accelerating the nation’s transition to a carbon-free future by helping our customers reach their sustainability goals, setting our own ambitious goal of achieving 100% carbon-free generation by 2040, and by investing in promising emerging technologies to eliminate carbon emissions across all sectors of the economy. Follow Constellation on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Indoor AgTech Innovation Summit, New York
Meet the VoltServer team at the Indoor AgTech Innovation Summit. CEO Stephen Eaves will deliver a presentation on ‘Transforming Vertical Farms with Intelligent and Efficient Electricity’ on Thursday June 29 at 11.40am EST. For more information about VoltServer, visit their exhibition booth at the Marriott Marquis in New York Times Square.