Fire chief needs electrical advice

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gr8benwa

Member
Location
indiana
I was hired to replace all the lighting in a fire station with high efficiency lighting and motion detectors. The fire chief explained to me that the electric bill was averaging $700 a month and hoped upgrading to high efficiency fixtures an bulbs along with motion sensors would lower the bill. I thought the $700 bill per month sounded very high considering they mostly just watch tv to pass away the down time. The chief believed the lighting was the main culprit considering the lights were left on more than turned off. Now it has been 3 months and the chief gave me an update. He said the bill had gone down slightly but something else must be driving the bill sky high. I suspected the bill would not drop dramatically but would like to solve this puzzle and plan to offer some free consulting to the chief to help him figure out the problem. (yes the chiefs under the gun with a shrinking budget)

Besides a tv that pretty much never gets turned off, the rest of the basics like a microwave, electric stove, 2 fridges, ect,, most of whats being used would be comparable to a residential home .

Here is what I discovered upon further investigating and need some advice.

The service is 240 3 phase. A phase and B phase feed a couple sub panels which supply electric to all the 120/240 devices in the building. the 240v 3 phase only feeds an air pack system (to refill oxygen tanks) and 3 phase also feeds a 240v commercial sized dryer. The chief told me that the air pack system is only used 2 or 3 times a month and the dryer may be used by a handfull of fireman who dry their fireproof gear after a fire and a few of the guys wash their work uniforms at the station while the majority take their laundry home to wash and dry. (so 3 phase loads are rare)

SO I know this is a lot of ambiguous information but in a nutshell the $700 electric bill a month seems like it's twice as high as it should be. This is a small town fire station btw. 6 to 8 fireman per 24 hour shift.

I've taken Mike Holts 14 week instructional class (6 weeks electron theory, 8 weeks preparing for master exam) and I have just bought his dvd series. I'm still learning , I come to this forum often to help me make sense of things that haven't clicked yet despite the excellent class I took and the dvds I watch. Unbalanced loads still baffle me. I think the A and B phase electrons are canceling each other out on the 240 single phase loads but the C phase without a load confuses me. I think those electrons return to the source via the neutral.... or with 0 amps , since there is no load ,maybe the service acts as a single phase system 180 degrees (when zero amps on c phase) ???? . I'm unsure how this effects the kwh or does it? Does this cause a power factor issue? Is the service acting as an open delta 95% of the time???

anyway.......
I plan to return and do a load calculation which would give me numbers to play with and I know 99% of you reading this would like some numbers now. (I've read a lot of threads on this forum lol).

Here is my question.

Would the manner in which the main service panel has been split, using 2 phases to supply virtually all the power being used daily..... And then the 3 phase just powering rarely used devices .... be the prime suspect here for the high bill. I obviously recognize that the service is very unbalanced and I would have never split it up like it is, but -
:confused:what effect would you expect that this setup would play on the electric bill? or would it :-?

Just asking for general advice right now without providing you guys with numbers to crunch at this time.

Best guesses and theories will be appreciated!:D

what say you?


Thanks
Ben
 

mivey

Senior Member
Would the manner in which the main service panel has been split, using 2 phases to supply virtually all the power being used daily..... And then the 3 phase just powering rarely used devices .... be the prime suspect here for the high bill.
No.

I suspect it is the cooking, washing, external lighting, etc that goes on.

To verify this, take your ammeter into the panel and read each circuit. I suspect you will find very little load if no one is doing anything. A building running 24x7 might use more than you think as there would just tend to be more activity than a typical house.

Of course, it might use less than I think. I'll see if I can find some usage in some data I have.
 

SAC

Senior Member
Location
Massachusetts
I'd think it unlikely that an unbalanced load as you describe would cause the high bill. If the same load was completely balanced the maximum current on the conductors would be less than in an unbalanced condition. An unbalanced condition may dissipate slightly more power in the transformer and service conductors, but they would have to be sized incorrectly for it to make any substantial difference. Furthermore, only the conductors on the load side of the meter would contribute - the rest would be loss only the POCO would see (though extra voltage drop could be observed). The biggest reason I see to be concerned with balancing the load is when the use starts to approach the current limits of the service - you can get about 3x the rated power if it is perfectly balanced vs. completely unbalanced. At least that is how I understand it.

So bottom line, I agree with the other posts in that it is most likely an issue with unexpected (but not necessarily improper) load.
 

petersonra

Senior Member
Location
Northern illinois
Occupation
engineer
A fire station is a 24/7 operation as someone else mentioned. I would expect to see a lot more use there than a "normal" installation.

A lot of people are shocked at how much they are paying for stuff that is not even in use. Wall warts and other things that are plugged in all the time but not actually in use can suck a lot of juice.

Spend a few hours poking around and doing some measurements and you will no doubt find where the energy is being used, and maybe come up with some ways to reduce that energy usage. But maybe not.
 

qcroanoke

Sometimes I don't know if I'm the boxer or the bag
Location
Roanoke, VA.
Occupation
Engineering
The service is 240 3 phase. A phase and B phase feed a couple sub panels which supply electric to all the 120/240 devices in the building. the 240v 3 phase only feeds an air pack system (to refill oxygen tanks) and 3 phase also feeds a 240v commercial sized dryer. The chief told me that the air pack system is only used 2 or 3 times a month and the dryer may be used by a handfull of fireman who dry their fireproof gear after a fire and a few of the guys wash their work uniforms at the station while the majority take their laundry home to wash and dry. (so 3 phase loads are rare)
Be careful! Sounds like you may have a high leg in there.
By code it should be identified with orange coloring and on B phase but some POCO's want it on C phase.
Don't move anything around until you verify the voltage you have.
 

GUNNING

Senior Member
$$$ to save $$$

$$$ to save $$$

you need to investigate every circuit.
3 rules of thermo dynamics; can't win, can't loose, cant get out of the game.
Meaning same amount of energy to power the device no mater what you do.

Look for old or going bad motors or water heaters. They will be the most obvious.
Get in touch with your local utility. They always have some great ideas on how to conserve energy.
Don't panic,tell the cheif to move the electric bill or a portion there of to a different column in the books for image or advertising, or security. Room motion sensors work ok but do you want a vacant looking building when nobody is there?
Changing out the lamps from incandescent to florescent is a really good start. Instant water heaters are a real saver too, I have 3 teenagers and it saved me $100 a month. With the 3 phase you can get a real deal. Turn down the thermostat and seal up the windows or better yet replace them with low e ones if you have the budget. Caulk and seal the holes and insulate. All of this is going to take money. Its available if you can get the grant money. Good luck.
 

gar

Senior Member
101123-0919 EST

gr8benwa:

Suitable instrumentation would help you analyze the problem.

Ideally this would be some sort of power monitor with recording capability. Just using a single channel recording ammeter would provide some help.

Assume the cost of power is $0.10/KWH. Then $700/month is about 7000 KWH/month or about 225 KWH/day or about 10 KW continuous load.

The dryer and any electric water heater are likely high usage. A new TV might be in the range of 100 W or 2.4 KWH/day. As stated above use an ammeter as a simple test tool. Turn off all obvious loads, and check the current in each phase. Note whether any large loads are on at this time. You can probably turn off most large loads with the breaker without the load caring. You have to probe for what is using large amounts of power for long times. However, many small loads that are on for a long time can add up. For example: 200 W 24/7 would be about 0.2*24*31 = 150 KWH/month.

Always check my math. I make mistakes that I do not see many times.

.
 

mivey

Senior Member
I'll see if I can find some usage in some data I have.
It sure falls within the range of the data I have. More than some, less than others.

Some small volunteer fire departments averaged about 500 kWh/month (some less) while some of the fully-staffed buildings averaged 5,000 to 15,000 kWh/month (some more).
 

sgunsel

Senior Member
A fire station probably has a lot of continuous loads that you won't find elsewhere. What about HVAC? How old is the building and how well insulated?BIG overhead doors, open a lot. Floor and drive heating. Heated pressure washers. Battery chargers - could be sizeable one or more for every vehicle, plus a bunch for portable equipment. Engine block heaters.

You need to do a load analysis. May not be as much savings as the chief would like to see.
 

broadgage

Senior Member
Location
London, England
Look for leaks of hot water. A small leak of electricly heated water from a plumbing fault can waste a lot of electricity.
Also how old and how big are the fridges ? an old or faulty fridge can use a suprising amount of power, especialy if in a warm place.

Are the fire trucks fitted with line powered engine pre heaters? and if so are these set to a sensible temperature.
 
If they are using an electric water heater remember that the trucks get washed all the time, they are big, and the firemen don't use cold water, at least not the ones I know.

Also, each engine I saw was connected to a life support system that automatically disconnected when the trucks drove out. Consider how much it takes to maintain the huge batteries in every truck inside the firehouse pretty much 24/7 along with anything else in the connection that needs juice.
 

dbuckley

Senior Member
I'd start by just eyeballing the meter for a while; a 10KW load should some agressive blinkin' or spinnin' depending on the meter.

If that is the case, then (with permision) just start opening breakers.

Theres really only two possibilities; a lot of continuous load, or a mother of an intermittent load.
 

gr8benwa

Member
Location
indiana
I'm really amazed at the amount of people who take time out of their day to help people like myself out. I have been doing electrical work for about 5 years and honestly its only been within the last 2 years that I decided to go beyond just wiring stuff up to wanting to understand how electricty works. It really troubles me when I dont fully grasp a concept so it's nice to have such a kind and informative group to help me connect the dots. You guys are an inspiration to those of us still getting our feet wet. thank you so much!
 

bob

Senior Member
Location
Alabama
GR
get a copy of the power billl and see if they are being billed a demand charge.
If the demand is high enough, it could be a major portion of the bill.
Let us know what you find.
 

Chamuit

Senior Member
Location
Texas
Another idea.

Find out what their rate is for power. Reverse the math and find out what the daily consumption is or ask for the info from the POCO. They may not be using a whole lot of energy but be paying a higher rate because of POCO pricing scales.
 

sparky=t

Senior Member
Location
Colorado
GR
get a copy of the power billl and see if they are being billed a demand charge.
If the demand is high enough, it could be a major portion of the bill.
my money is on the demand billing!, fire up the compressor and the range and it's all over!
 
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