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Planning for Facility Renovations: Is Your Electrical Service Sufficient?

Planning for Facility Renovations: Is Your Electrical Service Sufficient?

by Bill Fitch, P.E.

As an electrical engineer for over 20 years and a senior member of DME’s staff, I am 100% devoted to asking the right questions and solving problems for major clients throughout the U.S. and around the globe. Many of you may not realize that I began my career in the nuclear power industry, where I received exceptional training and acquired a disciplined approach to performing design and analysis activities. My personal goal is enable clients to maximize the use, capability, reliability, and capacity of their facilities and infrastructure, so hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to work with you.

In a series of articles—designed for Project Managers, Facilities Engineers, and Electrical Maintenance Staff—I will explore the importance of taking the time to study your utility bills, understanding the condition of your current equipment, and monitoring power usage at key points within your facility —prior to designing a solution or creating any drawings.

What’s In the Utility Bill?
First, let’s explore the importance of your electric utility bill and why an engineer would ask to see it. You may be receiving two bills, or perhaps a combined bill with an Energy Generation component and an Energy Delivery component. The Delivery component/bill is the section that’s pertinent to our project planning. Your monthly bill includes a lot of information—the total KW-hours (energy) used over the entire billing period, a series of charges associated with metering and power delivery, taxes and fees, other customer charges, and contact information.

Many times when we ask the client for their bills at the beginning of a project, we get a spreadsheet from the accounting department indicating monthly costs for the past year; however, what we really need are the actual bills with all the information described above, not just a cost spreadsheet. What I ultimately want to assess is how much of your existing electrical service is being used, and therefore, how much capacity is left for the project under discussion.

How Do We Determine if the Existing Service is Capable of Supporting the Project?

  • Review the Bills; Determine Peak Demand
    First, we review at least 12 months of data and look for a line item that indicates the “Peak Demand” in KW. This is the highest usage of power during a time period chosen by the utility. While this period may vary by utility, it is usually between 5 and 30 minutes. The Peak Demand will then indicate the highest value of power being delivered to/consumed by the facility in any given period during the billing cycle. Any periods of high demand could be tied to the processes they are running, or a seasonal factor such as air conditioning. We select the highest value and use that as our benchmark for the facility.
  • Calculate the Load; Determine Capacity Go/No Go
    Next, we calculate the net increase in electrical loads that will be added by the proposed project. Once we add the new loads to the Peak Demand value, we can determine if it’s within the capability of the existing service. If yes, then we continue with the design. If no, we start a discussion with the client and the utility about upgrading the service.
  • Contact the Utility
    In the case of our larger clients, there’s usually a dedicated account representative at the utility. After receiving the bills, I give that person a call to verify my ‘educated interpretation’ of the billing information. Sometimes the Peak Demand information is not on the bill, and most times the demand period is not identified. I also need to determine if my client is paying any penalties. If they have an extraordinary peak demand, they may be penalized for that. There could also be other unique charges. For instance, a multi-building facility that’s interconnected with multiple service accounts may be hit with an “non-typical service configuration” charge. I need to understand what’s going on and if these issues can be corrected as well as if it makes sense financially to do so.

I presented a straightforward case for determining if your existing electrical service is large enough to support your planned growth and/or facility expansion. About 75% of the time we see a clear Yes/No result. Other times, we need to gather more information, perform additional calculations, and potentially get direct utility engineering involvement to make an accurate assessment. That’s when you benefit the most from working with an experienced electrical engineer. And of course, the client should establish and maintain a relationship with their utility representative.

Stay tuned for my next article about aging and obsolescence of your electrical equipment. Please contact me if you have any comments about my area of expertise or would like me to cover a certain topic in an upcoming article. Don’t forget to check out one of our Central Utilities Upgrade project profiles.

DME is a privately held firm, established on our core values of personal integrity, responsibility, and professional ethics. Our reputation is built on a commitment to listen carefully to what our clients are saying, and respond appropriately. DME’s ability to take a client initiative and turn it into an innovative solution is second to none. Our client-focused approach of building lasting business relationships consistently achieves excellent results that exceed expectations.

Let us be your partner for your next facility renovation, retrofit, or build.

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