Described by the Financial Times as the ‘green holy grail’, Voltage Power Optimisation (VPO) was introduced to the UK by Angus Robertson, CEO of powerPerfector. Energy Management caught up with him as the company celebrated being given The Fastest Growing Green Company Award at the Virgin ‘Fast Track 100’ dinner at Richard Branson’s estate

Double digit price rises in the cost of gas and electricity have once more brought home the need for an immediate increase in the intensity with which the UK embraces the transition to a ‘green economy’.

Such price rises have a dual effect on business. Not only are they putting a squeeze on the budgets of energy managers across the country, but they are also making the business case for energy conservation measures increasingly appealing.

According to Angus Robertson, CEO of powerPerfector, the UK’s fastest growing green company, there has never been a better time to invest in energy efficiency. “When we started in 2001, there wasn’t an appetite to invest in technology, the paybacks were an unattractive ten years and, with no ‘lower carbon’ driver, people simply didn’t need to make the investment – energy was cheap.

“Now it is a different story – fuel prices have jumped by 77% over the last five years and industry experts forecast that there will be a near doubling in wholesale prices between now and 2017. Energy efficiency now fits into the investment models of most organisations and is the most effective method of mitigating future price rise risk – short of turning everything off.”

A proven solution

powerPerfector’s multi-award winning Voltage Power Optimisation technology gives cost and carbon savings by improving the quality of the power going into a commercial building. By optimising the incoming supply, electronic equipment works more efficiently and consumes less energy – 13% on average.

VPO is trusted by the energy regulator (Ofgem), the government’s climate change department (DECC), UK low carbon energy provider (EDF Energy), the UK’s biggest retailer (Tesco), as well as 145 local authorities and over 20 government agencies.

“VPO will reduce risk within any business or building it is installed,” continued Robertson, “be it financial, operational or indeed reputational, VPO will make a positive impact.

“Those with responsibility for reducing energy use are at the heart of a decision making process that will determine how effectively business is able to cut costs, future-proof against degrading power quality and combat climate change – the challenge is knowing how to differentiate good technology from bad.”

What makes powerPerfector unique is that the power quality benefits of the technology are intrinsic to the design. There are no moving parts that could be a common point of failure. This means that the technology has an unrivalled, 17 year, 100% reliability record.

Allied to excellent cost saving performance, powerPerfector also has a positive effect on the quality of power going into a business.

Power quality on the distribution network is degrading, in part due to the success of the government’s push for sustainability, which has seen a proliferation of renewable energy projects feeding into the grid that disturb the sine wave and create an increased incidence of transients (spikes).

Whilst in the past the National Grid had the task of prioritising and balancing the UK’s electricity demand using the traditional sources of nuclear, coal, gas, hydro-electric and oil generation, now a raft of wind farms, CHP and biomass plants make the job infinitely more complicated.

The intermittent nature of this type of generation means that, when there is a drop in generation from renewables, other forms of generation are called upon to fill the shortfall. This switching between sources, to ensure a constant supply of energy, has a knock-on effect on the quality of the power supplied to our homes and businesses.

Power spikes and harmonic distortion can damage sensitive equipment and increase the regularity with which organisations have to carrying out maintenance and replace electrical equipment.

Transients can knock out power across a business and bring a hasty end to a day’s trading. It is something that is likely to get worse as the proliferation of renewable energy increases.

“The quality of our power supply isn’t something that we’ve had to concern ourselves with but, in the future, it should increasingly be on business risk registers,” said Robertson.

powerPerfector has also lobbied for greater transparency within the energy efficiency market – as there is no over-arching body to monitor and police the claims made by companies that have entered the voltage management sector with sub-optimal technology.

“We now have confirmation from ESTA (Energy Services Technology Association) that they endorse the International Performance, Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP) as the approved measurement and verification methodology for the industry – and indeed may make it mandatory in the future.

“It brings reassurance for clients that the savings are real and auditable. Think twice about buying energy conservation measures from any company that does not offer independent evaluation of savings,” added Robertson.

VPO – A buyer’s guide

Within the voltage management market there are nearly 30 different options. Each technology is slightly different and many boast high savings. So what criteria does Robertson think energy professionals should use when purchasing voltage management solutions?

Voltage reduction and voltage optimisation are broadly the same thing – just a reduction in voltage and there is little improvement in power quality as a result – this is reflected in their lower pricing. Whilst they will save some money, they underperform compared to voltage power optimisation that improves power quality and eliminates transients.

Reliability: make sure that the company’s technology has an unblemished reliability track record, otherwise you are risking business continuity for your clients.

Guarantee: if the guarantee is longer than the product’s market time, how do you know it will last? And if it has been around a long time then what is different about it compared to other offerings?

Simplicity: as a rule of thumb, the fewer points of failure the better. Beware of overcomplicated solutions with multiple and different components. If it requires fan cooling it is not efficient, if it has moving parts be careful – these are a failure point. If a bypass is recommended, why? Might it fail?

Bells and whistles: meters on equipment can be helpful but if they say how much you are saving do not believe it – the figure cannot be computed without comparative data.

Measurement and verification: a savings analysis should come in two parts, firstly a detailed savings plan, in which the site is analysed and a methodology for determining the savings is agreed upon, and secondly a savings report, which quantifies the avoided energy use.

Any measurement and verification strategy that does not have these two ingredients could be open to ambiguity, or worse, abuse, as the savings analysis will simply be thrown together after the energy conservation measure has been implemented.

International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP) is now the most widely used and recognised M&V protocol in the world. You can be sure savings calculated using IPMVP will be auditable and accurate if conducted by qualified practitioners. Does the supplier have one and/or is it signed off by a registered practitioner?

Price: the recent government spending review risks putting ‘best value procurement’ at risk and raises the spectre of ‘lowest cost wins’ – this, above all, is something buyers need to be aware of as a danger – do not be drawn into a cheaper deal. All powerPerfector’s reputations rely upon its recommendations so conduct a very full technical review of any technology offering in this sector before you risk your reputation.

Benchmarking: make sure that the technology has been tried and tested. Ask for case studies and testimonials and make sure you chose a technology that does what its maker is telling you it will. Ask to speak to clients of the company you review.

Company reliability: check the financials of the product seller – are they financially secure enough to pay out on their guarantees?

Finally, installing voltage management technology at your supply point is comparable to heart surgery – if it is not done by professionals your building will go down and when selecting your technology consider, ‘would you want to buy a cheap pacemaker?’

VPO case study – retail roll-out

The powerPerfector story began in October 2000, when Tesco’s store in Thornton-Cleveleys installed the UK’s first Voltage Power Optimisation (VPO) unit.

In retrospect it was a brave step to entrust a technology that, at that point, had no history of performance in the UK. It was a good decision then and it remains a good decision today.

The supermarket has since installed the technology in over 1,500 stores, distribution centres and offices and, as a result, is saving millions every year, whilst reducing its carbon footprint.

Daniel Travers, Tesco’s Corporate Purchasing, said, “We continue to roll-out powerPerfector as a principal technology in our energy efficiency strategy. From our ten year experience, and in our constant review of the marketplace, Voltage Power Optimisation is a principal ­technology that improves rather than diminishes our ­supply security. Procurement for this critical point of ­supply to our stores and distribution centres has to have 100% reliability.”