Q & A With Frank Sharp, Senior Technical Leader, The Electric Power Research Institute, Inc.

Q & A With Frank Sharp, Senior Technical Leader, The Electric Power Research Institute, Inc.

Q & A With Frank Sharp, Senior Technical Leader, The Electric Power Research Institute, Inc.

 Background on EPRI:

The Electric Power Research Institute, Inc. (EPRI, www.epri.com) conducts research and development relating to the generation, delivery and use of electricity for the benefit of the public.

An independent, nonprofit organization, EPRI brings together its scientists and engineers as well as experts from academia and industry to help address challenges in electricity, including reliability, efficiency, health, safety and the environment. EPRI's members represent more than 90 percent of the electricity generated and delivered in the United States, and international participation extends to 40 countries. EPRI's principal offices and laboratories are located in Palo Alto, Calif.; Charlotte, N.C.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Lenox, Mass.

Q&A: Frank Sharp, Senior Technical Leader, Energy Utilization, EPRI. 

  • What is the best form factor in this industry?  
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    • EPRI is researching CEA because of its potential to address issues related to population growth, food security, food safety, water access, water use, sustainability, grid load, local job creation, land usage, and smart city integration, all for community benefit. 
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    • That said, we see three primary emerging forms and each have benefits:
      • The converted warehouse, vertical farm, custom building
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        • This provides opportunity to use underutilized or underperforming real estate in areas that often have limited economic potential. 
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        • These facilities offer the ability to yield high quality produce in large volumes near population centers via their use of technologies to maintain ideal growing conditions. 
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      • Converted shipping containers or pods
        • This approach is highly mobile, is often modular, and utilize modern technologies to maintain growing conditions.
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        • These facilities offer the ability to reliability deliver fresh produce to targeted communities and applications and use minimal resources 
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      • Augmented greenhouses where heat and lighting are added to keep the greenhouse operating year-round. 
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        • This format has lower operational cost per square foot since it’s lighting load is only utilized when sunlight is not available 
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    • These facilities have the ability to deliver crops in large scale and deliver fresh produce year-round to markets. We found a lot of unanswered questions about each of these types of controlled environment agriculture and they all warrant significantly more research as we move forward. We are working with utilities and CEA groups to better leverage current technology to forward each of these formats for the public benefit. 
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    • In addition to these three forms there are other forms developing like aquaculture, indoor shrimp production, and insects for protein.
    •  
    • Note, established industries like traditional greenhouses and floriculture operations are also very common and will continue to expand and be utilized. These operations are typically not researched by EPRI since their operations and technologies are well established. EPRI does follow work in these areas and will engage to evaluate new process and technologies in these operations if they emerge.  
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  • With major e coli and other pathogen outbreak concerns plaguing the food landscape, CEA is a viable solution if implemented correctly. What measures are you implementing now to reduce the likelihood of a pathogen outbreak, or warn a consumer that the food is not safe? 
  •  
    • Controlled environment agriculture can reduce the likelihood of the spread of food borne pathogens due to its ability to control the environment and limit exposure to outside factors. But there is still risk and all agriculture facilities (indoor or out) should remain vigilant to maintain food safety and security in the future. Continued research into efficacies and future technologies will help reduce this risk further.
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  • Energy is one of the most expensive component for an indoor growing operation. What is your number of grams that can be grown on the farm in a given month, then divide this by the number of KWH consumed per month. Please give more configuration details, pictures, and growth trial data from these trials.
  •  
    • While energy is one of the more significant costs for growing indoors, this industry has great potential to expand. This expansion will be driven by need for fresh produce by expanding population, but the CEA industry must focus on improving its operational efficiency where it can be a vital part of a further efficiently electrified economy.
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    • Benefits derived from improved operational efficiency and higher yield can also help CEA facilities minimize labor costs, which are typically they highest costs.
    • The combination of improved technologies, operational efficiency improvements, and maximized labor costs can help assure CEA facilities that their products are competitive.
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    • CEA integration with an electrified economy will also make CEA a key part of future smart cities.
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    • The smart city integration of CEA will be further enhanced by use of grid integrated renewable energy and other distributed energy. As these resources come online, access to affordable and clean energy resources will help shift the energy costs of CEA facilities.  We will be exploring this aspect of CEA in great detail during our 2018 Electrification conference in Long Beach this summer. 
    • With further electrification and demand on the grid, additional research is critical to learn how to support grid stability and reliability as more CEA operations come online.
    •  
    • We are working with utilities and CEA operations around the world to learn more about emerging technologies and identifying proper placement of these operations on the existing grid. 
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