Friday, August 7, 2020
Aug. 7, 2020

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Energy Adviser: When to upgrade a connection

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Whether a customer is running a household or a factory, the Clark Public Utilities’ electrical grid is built to deliver as much high-quality energy as needed.

But sometimes customers draw more electricity than their connections are built to handle in what is known as a high density load. This creates a serious hazard for their own service and that of their neighbors.

High density loads operate at close to their maximum electrical capacity most of the time in a confined area. Like redlining an engine, those power demands push the property’s electrical panel to its limits and risk starting an electrical fire or causing neighborhood brownouts.

There is no single way a connection becomes a high density load, but two of the most common are indoor plant growing operations and large networked computer systems used to mine digital cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin or DogeCoin.

Currency mining uses powerful mailbox-sized computers in a network. Those systems easily scale up in a small space. Even a small house or apartment can host a mining operation. And, like any mine, the owners only make money when the machines are operating, so they’re almost always on. As a byproduct of all that work, these networks generate massive amounts of heat that hinder their performance. That means many of those utility customers also add large air conditioning systems, pushing their energy demands even higher.

Indoor grow operations sometimes use many high-power bulbs, fans, humidity and climate control systems, that run for hours on end. Collectively, these also cause huge power draws.

“These types of loads can spring up anywhere–a quiet neighborhood cul-de-sac, a strip mall, wherever there’s a little room and a power connection–but they can be very dangerous for the people around them,” said Bart Hansen, a Clark Public Utilities key accounts manager. “Often, people who build these systems understand them very well, but they often don’t realize when they’re pushing their 200-amp service to its absolute limits.”

There are many scenarios that could cause a customer’s account to draw large quantities of energy, like welding equipment or powerful electric kilns. Those demands come in short bursts, not long sustained draws. At those consumption levels, the home’s electrical service begins to act more like a fuse than a conductor.

“When the wire is overloaded the insulation will melt and most likely burn up,” Hansen said. “At that point the risk of burning your or your neighbor’s house down is very high.”

Someone considering the installation of high-consumption electric equipment should contact the utility to see if their connection can withstand the load or if they need to upgrade their connection. They and their neighbors will be safer. The Key Accounts managers at the utility are there to help, plus they might be able to secure a lower electricity rate depending on the usage.

“We want to work with customers who have those types of loads,” Hansen said. “Having the right connections is better for the customer, their neighbors and our grid.”

Key Accounts managers are there to help commercial customers with high power demands. That’s also true for residential customers with dramatically higher energy use. Give them a call at 360-992-3000.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98688.

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