Friday, September 4, 2015

No Power? Some Ideas and Strategies to Consider

Morgan County, WV Courthouse Power

I suppose that the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has me thinking about strategies for keeping the courthouse open.  In other words…”Plan B”.  And since, as you know, computers don’t work very well without some kind of “juice”, we will discuss aspects of electrical power.


I think that there is a general two-step strategy in planning for your courthouse power needs.  First, reduce the amount of power required.  The second is to provide reliable secondary power sources.  So here we go.

Reducing Power Needs

The initial concept to share is that as a reader of the CTB, I hope you all realize that E-filing and E-document use reduces energy costs.  This is because a massive amount of information can be stored on computers servers in comparison to heating/cooling/lighting file rooms. And it also reduces costs across the entire system.

Now let’s agree that modern courthouses don’t work well without electricity.  We very often place courtrooms in the center of courthouses for many good reasons since they serve as a common meeting place hub for the judges, clerks, attorneys, participants, and the public.  As such they very often don’t have access to natural light.  And with modern visual presentation technology, we want to control light as much as possible to enhance viewing.

The good news here is that modern LED lighting uses much less power.  Since we are on the subject of “Plan B” lighting I found this example of a Lithium Ion battery based emergency light that will run for 8 hours.  At the time of my writing this article the cost was $29 USD.  That one is an easy item to consider.

Converting the existing florescent or incandescent lighting to LED can result in significant power savings.  For example the company, US Energy Sciences converted the courthouse in Toombs County, Georgia to LED lighting.  Before conversion the courtroom used 3,317 watts of electrical energy, and after only 1,785 watts while increasing light levels 5-7 times.  For more see the US Department of Energy web page that explains LED lighting at:

Lowering computer power consumption. My new Dell Latitude laptop uses a 65 watt A/C power brick. Many of my colleagues are receiving Dell Inspiron Micro desktop that have only a 45 watt adapter.  All-in-one desktop machines have similar power requirements.  Both desktop and laptop computers are being equipped with SSD (solid state drives) that consume less power as well.
Compare these power draw specifications to a normal desktop PC that requires 280 watts or more. That means you can run five (5) Dell Micros for the same amount of power that one old style PC requires. In turn this means that any uninterruptable power supplies (UPS) will last longer.  So say a 15 minute battery backup UPS for a traditional desktop PC could potentially last an hour or more for a low power system.

Servers.  While servers still require a good amount of electrical power we pretty much need fewer of them because of virtualization.  And with the cloud Internet, we actually don’t have to have all of them in our courthouse.  Some can be there and some elsewhere like in a data center next to a large hydro-electric generation facility or Iceland.  Google has a “white paper (PDF)” on their data center “best practices” if you are interested.

Secondary Power Sources

Uninterruptable Power Systems (UPS) and Batteries are always one part of the solution.  The good news here is that if you have a laptop you have a built-in uninterruptable power supply or UPS.  The other news here is that Lithium Ion based battery technology used in new laptops is also coming for larger systems.  But this is not without issues.  This article discusses the subject well.

Solar power is always interesting. I found that there were several courthouses in the USA that have solar power installed.  The ones I found after a quick search were:

I have to note that the article that I linked to for Hillsborough County I believe has a rather unfair title because the solar panels installed do save on their electrical utility bills.  They just don’t save as much as promised.
Now this is one solution that would keep the lights and computers running, but the really big power user here is the heating and cooling systems.  In the winter cooling is obviously not a problem in many locations so the solar panels will need to provide enough power for air handling assuming gas or heated water.  But summer cooling needs for a courthouse are very likely not going to be handled by solar power for very long.  You might get a day of operations there and that might be enough.

Generators and Microturbines. So we have lowered the amount of electricity needed.  And even perhaps we even might have solar power that is reducing normal electrical costs.  But at the end of the day a courthouse needs serious electrical power generation to maintain operations.
First point. I hope that everyone knows to not put generators in the basement or in your local flood zone?  Unfortunately I have seen locations where this occurred and needless to say, a generator under water isn’t very useful.

Second point.  We had this occur here at the NCSC where we have a powerful electrical generator installed to keep us running during and after hurricanes or ice storms that come through our area on a regular basis.  At one time that generator used diesel fuel.  What we learned was that if the electricity has failed in the region, it has failed at the fuel depot and so the truck that was scheduled to replenish our fuel couldn’t be filled itself.  Our generator now attached and runs off of the natural gas pipeline.

Third point.  Our power reduction efforts above should in turn save money on the capacity of the backup generator.

Last, the obvious and likely lowest cost choice is a traditional internal combustion engine such as what we use here at the NCSC.  But I also learned a few years ago about “microturbines”.  Cool huh? For example, a leading manufacturer of microturbines is Capstone Turbine Corp.  One of their case studies shows 12 microturbines installed on a 16th floor “set-back” roof in Manhattan, New York City.  As microturbines are by design more efficient than traditional engines; it is one alternative piece of the puzzle to consider.

In conclusion, this article only touches on this general subject area.  But it is one that is important for you to think about in order to keeping the wheels of justice moving.

No comments:

Post a Comment