How an advanced battery management system can help you reduce your environmental impact.
Corporate responsibility endeavors have sought to push environmentally friendly changes across almost every industry, including the telecommunications business. However, powering growing telecommunications networks is not a small feat. Operators usually give higher priority to the task of keeping networks sufficiently powered and backed up than to the search for ways to reduce the environmental impact. Fortunately, technology changes and new opportunities arise.
Today, telecommunications companies are going green with more efficient equipment, from networking devices to HVAC, and backup power is no exception. In fact, making backup up power upgrades may be one of the best ways for telcos to become more environmentally friendly — if they are willing to embrace new technology and make changes to systems that have remained the same for decades.
Manual Battery Work
Maintaining backup power now involves expending a lot of energy to ensure reliability. At sites, carriers maintain backup power systems made up of strings of batteries and, usually, generators that serve as the power supply during outages. For years, network operators have accepted inefficiency as part of the process of maintaining those batteries. Those inefficiencies not only raise costs for carriers, but they also have environmental effects. Today, remote management technology can mitigate many of these inefficiencies, and it is worth looking at how remote battery management can reduce a carrier’s environmental impact.
Many carriers believe that truck rolls for manual battery testing remain necessary to ensure that backup batteries are healthy enough to hold the load for the required amount of time during a power outage. The following information focuses on environmental effects, without going into detail about the additional opportunities to improve testing processes with remote management technology. However, it is worth mentioning that the testing conducted by most technicians (a capacity test by impedance) fails to measure key variables such as open circuit voltage, temperature, current, AC impedance, DC resistance and other characteristics that provide insight into a battery’s true state of health. Better testing means better battery data, and with better data, operators can achieve more efficiency.
These truck rolls represent an operational expense and an environmental cost for carriers. Across the United States, hundreds of thousands of remote sites require at least an annual truck roll (sometimes bi-annually or even quarterly), which translates to many miles traveled and much gasoline burned to check sites. Remote management solutions can test batteries automatically and can almost completely eliminate the need for testing truck rolls. Even if other site maintenance is included with the manual battery test, carriers will face a double-visit problem — one truck roll to discover bad batteries and another to replace them. Using software to identify bad batteries in advance, technicians can optimize truck rolls to limit the environmental impact. The best part is that eliminating unnecessary truck rolls is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how remote management technology can create green savings for telcos.
Advanced Charging Method
Another element of battery maintenance raises costs to carriers and harms the environmental bottom line: float charging. Continuous float charging is the industry standard method for maintaining charge in standby batteries. A constant current flows through the batteries, and while temperature-compensating rectifiers can now adjust the float voltage with some dynamism, float charging has some drawbacks with valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries. These include accelerated battery failure and higher power consumption.
Although the chemical reactions that lead to quicker battery failure are complex (batteries fail in a nonlinear manner that makes their behavior difficult to map), the root cause is simple: overcharge and higher internal temperature of the batteries. The dual effects of high voltage and high temperature increase the rate of grid corrosion within the battery while on continuous float charge. The effect of temperatures on batteries causes a bigger problem at sites that lack climate control, but that does not mean that controlled environments mitigate the effect that heat has on the batteries. Batteries on float charge constantly generate internal heat, so even in air-conditioned buildings, batteries are constantly victims of their own heat generation.
But what alternatives does the industry offer? A better charging method limits the charging that batteries receive while still ensuring that they are fully charged to deliver maximum backup power. Previous attempts to design some form of intermittent charging based on a fixed ratio of charging and rest have been unsuccessful. However, adaptive charging has accomplished the task of maintaining full battery charge without overcharging by using algorithms that constantly make adjustments for the battery’s state of health and for environmental factors.
Adaptive charging thus eliminates the failure mechanisms that drive battery degradation when batteries are on continuous float charge. The result doubles battery life. Batteries in controlled environments already last longer, but the benefits of life extension through reduced charging will remain proportional with the expected life of the battery across sites. This makes the adaptive charging methodology useful across many different applications.
Right away, adaptive charging contributes to green initiatives by reducing the power used to maintain charges in the batteries because they are charged for a minority of the time they are in the field. A key component of this kind of battery management system is the remote monitoring software, which, in addition to eliminating truck rolls, also stores data, allows for diagnostics, and provides predictive analytics.
In addition to reducing charging requirements, a battery management solution can reduce other power needs. Batteries are often a major source of heat in telecom sites from cabinets to huts. The heat created by the constant charging of the batteries is responsible in part for the high cooling costs at environmentally controlled sites. Reducing battery heat can lead to a big reduction in cooling costs. One telco has found that adding an adaptive charging solution and a modern rectifier can reduce electricity consumption even further at a hut by as much as $500 per year.
Reduced Battery Purchases
Improved battery management delivers additional green advantages. Third-party tests and field trials indicate that adaptive charging can double battery life. The longer battery life allows carriers to cut their battery purchases in half. Although the lead-acid battery industry is quite adept at recycling batteries, pollution realities and risks remain a part of the life cycle of lead-acid batteries. By buying fewer batteries, telcos can reduce the number of batteries in the waste stream that have the potential to pollute the environment with lead and sulfuric acid.
Perhaps the most deleterious environmental event is thermal runaway, which can destroy batteries and other site equipment and release chemicals into the site or atmosphere. These events, although rare, cost thousands of dollars and often require specialists to handle the cleanup. A sufficiently advanced battery management system will not just alert users about thermal runaway, but also will fully prevent it from happening by reducing heat generation caused by continuous float charging.
Going green is often seen as an end goal in and of itself with a minimal effect on a company’s bottom line and, perhaps, no added benefits to the system that is being changed to accommodate the environmentally friendly technology. In this case, using advanced battery management technology to better manage the maintenance and replacement of backup batteries is an investment in green technology that also delivers a great financial payback, usually within two to three years of the investment. The reduced environmental impacts are directly connected to decreased operating and capital expenses. Furthermore, the battery management system will improve site reliability and thus improve protection from service outages. For green-oriented service providers looking for more ways to reduce their environmental impact, cutting-edge battery management is a new way to tackle old inefficiencies.
Chris Mangum is president and CEO of Servato, a New Orleans-based company that improves the battery life and reliability of backup batteries through active battery management.
Green Benefits of Remote Battery Management
With a battery management system that can monitor batteries remotely and improve the charging of batteries, telecommunications companies can increase the reliability of their backup power and find ways to reduce their environmental impact in line with green initiatives. Here is a summary of the benefits: