A smart green alternative to the diesel generator

How an innovative battery solution powers up construction sites.

What started out as a reflective exercise on the power-related challenges facing the City of Antwerp developed into a green energy company that brings smart solutions to the market: Near grid Solutions. Their main product? The Green Box, a smart battery for construction sites that was developed by managers Frank Vermeulen and Bart Meersman using technology from Siemens.

It took a few detours until Near grid Solutions found the ideal application area for their smart, mobile battery: the construction sector. A construction site needs a lot of power, and a stable supply and reliable power source are of inestimable value.

 

“Tower cranes are the biggest challenge,” Frank Vermeulen explains. “They require a lot of power and, depending on the location of the site, distribution grid operators can’t always meet their demand. If that’s the case, diesel generators are usually the obvious choice, whereas the rest of the site is connected to the grid.”

The Green Box lets you adjust parameters depending on the power required – and you can even do it remotely.
Bart Meersman, Near grid Solutions

However, what’s often overlooked is protection. “In a power network that relies on inverters, the principles that are applied in the distribution grid are no longer in effect,” says Vermeulen. “Protection has to be dimensioned differently, because an inverter can’t deliver the same short-circuit current as a grid connection. An inverter always has a current limitation: a maximum current. Depending on the inverter, the short-circuit current is a multiple of the rated current. An inverter can handle that for a short time, but then the voltage will drop.”

An alternative to the traditional diesel generator

Bart Meersman and his colleagues were convinced that there had to be a better way, so they came up with the Green Box: a mobile battery for construction sites that’s a more environmentally-friendly, smarter, and safer alternative to traditional diesel generators.

 

“Thanks to parameterization, with this smart green battery you can make sure that the situation is safe and that selectivity is maintained, whatever the circumstances,” Meersman explains. “For instance, you don’t want a short circuit in a kettle to take out your whole site. The Green Box lets you adjust parameters depending on the power required – and you can even do it remotely using this mobile battery’s programmable logic controller (PLC), because the circuit breakers are integrated in the PLC via PROFINET. For example, the power requirement of the kettle hut will be different to that of the tower crane.”

We’ve had an excellent relationship and a successful collaboration with both our Siemens partner IEA Françoys-Vanoverschelde and our direct contact at Siemens, especially with regard to integration.
Frank Vermeulen, Near grid Solutions

Siemens and Near grid Solutions

When it came to producing their innovative green power solution, Near grid Solutions went in search of a partner with just the right knowledge. It didn’t take Meersman and his colleagues long to choose Siemens: “I worked with Siemens back when I was still connected to the University of Ghent, so I knew that the company was a reliable partner. That gave us confidence that the technology would be more than sound,” he says.

 

“We’ve had an excellent relationship and a successful collaboration with both our Siemens partner IEA Françoys-Vanoverschelde and our direct contact at Siemens, especially with regard to integration,” Vermeulen continues. “We see that as a real added value. The problems that we come up against aren’t always obvious. That’s when being able to pick up the phone and immediately get an answer to your questions or have someone you can thrash things out with is a great help.”

Being able to charge electric vehicles quickly is the next challenge confronting the grid that we’re currently focusing on.
Frank Vermeulen, Near grid Solutions

The future is mobile

Near grid Solutions is already looking ahead to new markets and applications. “Being able to charge electric vehicles quickly is the next challenge confronting the grid that we’re currently focusing on,” says Vermeulen. “We develop solutions for applications when the grid is unable to deliver. We’ve seen a lot of major cities all over the world struggling with the limitations of a reliable mains supply: That’s another huge challenge that we look forward to taking on in due course!”

The Siemens technology behind Near grid Solutions:

  • TIA Portal: configuration software for the automation layer.
  • SIMATIC automation components (S7-1200 + ET 200SP remote IO + ET 200SP energy meters + CP 1243-7 LTE): PLC for operation control and intelligence. The communication processor (CP) enables 4G data transmission and data buffering in the event of a loss of connection.
  • Molded case circuit breaker 3VA2 from the SENTRON portfolio: circuit breaker with PROFINET integration for flexible parameterization and internal power measurement.
  • TeleControl Server Basic: industrial remote communication with the focus on efficient TeleControl data transfer. This also enables the remote takeover of the PLC and updates and/or parameters to be pushed to the mobile Green Box.

The benefits of the Green Box

Compared to a diesel generator, the smart solution from Near grid Solutions offers a wide range of benefits:

 

Safer and more efficient working

The smart Green Box switches itself off automatically, provided that the parameters are set correctly. The fire risk is reduced thanks to the efficient short-circuit system. Unlike diesel generators, site managers no longer have to perform switching either, which makes their work a lot easier. For example, the crane driver can start work almost immediately in the morning.

 

More insight into energy consumption

The integrated energy meters give customers/site managers detailed real-time insight into data at the construction site. Energy consumption can be adjusted at any time where necessary, and problems can be detected faster – or even prevented. This will soon be automated using alarm modules. This log can also be very useful when it comes to insurance issues.

 

Modular system

The Green Box energy system is modular and scales up and down based on the power and energy requirements of the user. The site manager chooses what parts of the construction site – or a different project – will be connected to the Green Box and the levels of power required.

 

Less (noise) pollution on site

Unlike a diesel generator, which often generates noise and other forms of pollution, you’ll hardly notice that the Green Box is there. The smart battery works away silently in the background, providing a stable and efficient power supply.

July 8, 2021

Picture credits: Siemens

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