Going Green

Going Green

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Written By Eric Sandler

By Naomi Graychase

November 09, 2007

“Net Zero Electric” commercial building employs wireless mesh sensors to help produce more power than it uses.

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The Ferreira Construction building in Branchburg, NJ has the distinction of being the first “Net Zero Electric” commercial building in the United States. The 42,000 square foot “smart” building is the workplace for 100 people, and generates more energy from a renewable source than it consumes—thus making it “net zero electric.”

While numerous residential properties across the country have gone net zero, the Ferreira building is the first commercial building to do so. Thus far, the building has not only been net zero, it also lands itself consistently in the black (or “green,” as it were) by producing surplus electricity, which it returns to the grid.

The “green” accomplishment was possible thanks, in part, to partnerships with Live Data Systems and Sensicast Systems, a Massachusetts-based maker of turnkey wireless sensor network systems.Sensicast’s SensiNet Green Solutions line of wireless sensors is essential to the Ferreira building’s “green” system. Power is generated by a 223-kwh photovoltaic (PV) solar energy system consisting of 1200 solar PV panels that cover the roof of the building. The efficiency, condition, and power production of the PV system is monitored by the SensiNet network.

The Sensicast solution is based upon new SensiNet DC Voltage and Current Smart Sensors for string-level monitoring of PV solar power generating systems. The DC Voltage and Current sensors are protected by custom, NEMA-4-compliant enclosures, and work in concert with other SensiNet components, including temperature and humidity sensors, mesh repeaters, and gateways. The services software, which provides a comprehensive system for power metering, can also perform revenue-grade monitoring of commercial solar electric systems.

“We’re excited to be on the leading edge of the PV solar wave,” said Gary Ambrosino, Sensicast CEO in a press release. “Sensicast is the first wireless sensor company to implement string and panel level monitoring for PV systems that ensures maximum efficiency and low maintenance costs–both of which are fundamental to generating a high rate of return on long duration Power Purchase Agreements.”

Through its ability to monitor and report PV System conditions and make system data available to building automation applications, SensiNet can improve the efficiency of solar systems being used for energy self-sufficiency and revenue production. By capturing real-time data, SensiNet monitors the operating efficiency of PV systems. It can also produce automatic maintenance dispatches.   

“Investing in systems that support the efficiency and reliability of renewable energy gives businesses tangible financial, operational, and environmental benefits,” said Ambrosino. “By automating the task of detecting problems and dispatching maintenance personnel with information on their precise location and cause, Sensicast eliminates the time-consuming, often painful ‘search and identify’ mode of fixing PV arrays and panels in use today. Our SensiNet Green Solutions give owners and operators an easy way to monitor their PV Solar Systems so they can maintain them at maximum efficiency to renewable revenue through renewable energy.”During last summer’s heat wave, Ferreira’s offices maintained indoor temperatures of 72 to 74 degrees while still selling surplus power back to the regional electricity grid each day.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) estimates that the building sector is responsible for 65% of total electricity consumption for almost half of all greenhouse-gas emissions in the US.

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor of Wi-FiPlanet and UWBPlanet.

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