COOLING IS AN EXPENSIVE NECESSITY
Every year, plants spend millions of dollars putting energy into systems designed to get rid of energy...
Yeah. It doesn't make sense to us either.
Seriously. It's a problem.
We're all thinking about resource consumption. The EPA is increasing regulations. Plants are harder to build and maintain. The cost to produce keeps going up.
So why spend money when you shouldn't have to? You might as well roll up your dollar bills and burn those for energy!
The current systems are riddled with unnecessary waste and ineffeciencies that add up to millions every year.
To get an idea of how these ineffeciencies add up, let's dive further into the details below.
Manufacturing processes create massive amounts of excess energy in the form of waste heat. This energy is typically radiated off into the facility and is expelled into the air through exhaust ducts, walls, and ceilings. These plants require substantial additional energy to cool off the facilities for reasonable human occupation.
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Data centers also pose problems in energy and water consumption. Aside from the electrial draw to run the servers themselves, these facilities require a lot of additional cooling to keep the servers from overheating. This is accomplished in many energy-intensive ways such as HVAC and evaporative cooling methods.
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As our demand for electrical power increases exponentially, more sustainable methods will be required in order to meet it in a cost-effective way.
The power industry is built upon a centuries old technology that has only been incrementally improved upon in the last 150 years. It is riddled with wasteful ineffeciency that costs plants millions of dollars every year.
CURRENTLY PLANTS HAVE TWO OPTIONS
Evaporative cooling has been around for centuries as a reliable, efficient method for helping to get rid of a plant's heat load. However, this is an extremely wasteful method that consumes hundreds of thousands of fresh, treated water every minute.
Dry cooling is an alternative method of cooling that is closed-loop, meaning that it doesn't consume any water. However this method is much less efficient and requires a tremendous electrical load to run and takes up a large plot of land in order to function properly.
THE PROBLEMS WITH WATER
Water seems as though it is an abundant resource. After all, 71% of the earth is covered by it, right? Well, of that water, only 3.5% is fresh water, and 69% of that fresh water is locked up in the polar ice caps. That only leaves 0.76% of our total global water supply usable for all fresh water needs. YIKES! It is estimated that by the year 2025, 2/3 of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed environments, and it's already apparent that this is happening today.
According to the United States Geological Survey, industrial water accounts for 53% of US freshwater withdrawals; of that, thermoelectric power accounts for 49%. Excluding hydroelectric, power generation uses more than 143 billion gallons of freshwater every single day (that’s 15 billion more gallons than the runner up – agricultural withdrawal). To paint a clearer picture, think about the amount of water that spills over Niagara Falls and multiply it by three. This is an accurate picture of the rate of freshwater being consumed by power generation DAILY!
It doesn't end there! All of this water is required to be treated before it can be used in order to reduce biological hazards from forming in the cooling tower basins. This requires many plants to treat their water onsite. This comes with a hefty price tag. These facilities can cost upwards of $25 million for initial construction costs and more than $4 million every year in chemical and maintenance costs, in addition to the large electrical load required to run them.
Doesn't seem so eficient now, does it?
THE PROBLEMS WITH ELECTRICITY
So, whoa! Let's take a deep breath after that article above. We should totally stop wasting our valuable fresh water supply, right?! What else can we do? Can we cool off plants without wasting so much water? This is where dry cooling comes in.
Current dry cooling systems are great considering they are closed-loop systems and don't waste any water. This system works like the radiator in your car. The hot water from the plant is sent through a series of tubes where fans blow air over them to cool them off.
Sounds great! ...So what's the problem?
Dry systems are parasites. They draw an incredible amount of electricity to run the motor-driven fans to blow over the pipes as well as the the pumps required to circulate water through the system. And they are land hogs, eating up large portions of space, limiting the possibilities of plant location or expansion significantly. Although this parasitic load can be significant (upwards of 4MW), it is near negligible next to the reduction in plant capacity. Dry cooling systems can reduce the output of the plant by up to 30%. Every megawatt lost represents an annual loss in revenue between $900k and $2M, depending on load induced prices.
HEAT REJECTION IN DATA CENTERS
Data center construction is one of the most rapidly growing sectors in the world. It is currently showing a rapid growth rate of 9.3% per year. Many companies have started to shift the way they are building these centers, transitioning them into mega data centers. With much of society moving increasingly towards a data-driven lifestyle, this growth is warranted.
These data centers consume large amounts of water in order to cool their servers. This places an undue burden on those states where they are located. In fact, several large data center facilities have faced bills introduced by state representatives to limit the amount of water they can withdraw from local sources.
Remaining competitive in the manufacturing industry is a constant battle. Regulations and compliance measures are constantly becoming more stringent. Trying to comply with these regulations can be costly, and with profit margins already very slim, it becomes a huge burden.
Most manufacturing processes include the utilization of intense heat in the form of curing, smelting, molding, baking, etc. (the list could go on forever).
This becomes an issue for manufacturers in that they need a way to get rid of, or manage, that heat. Most of the time it radiates into the facilities and is carried out through HVAC systems, exhaust ducts, and transfer through walls and ceilings. Substantial energy is then required in order to cool these plants through various different costly methods.
Altogether, manufacturing facilities account for 25% of total energy consumption in the United States; and a significant amount of that power is radiated or exhausted back into the atmosphere. According to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency, there are 7 to 10 gigawatts of available waste heat energy in the United States. One gigawatt can power about 700,000 American homes. That's a lot of available power! If that power can be captured and put to work rather than wasted, that results in lower overhead and operating costs for the manufacturer, higher profitability, and a better competitive edge.
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