The role of voltage optimisation in a renewable installer’s arsenal 

Wayne Cramer, chairman and founder of GWE, explores how voltage optimisation complements and enhances renewable energy generation whilst reducing not only businesses’ costs but their carbon footprint too  

Discover how voltage optimisation (VO) is becoming an essential tool for sustainability-focused businesses in this interview with Wayne Cramer, chairman of GWE.

The emerging focus on renewable energy is a welcome shift in the global psyche, and businesses are increasingly addressing their carbon emissions and environmental impact as part of their roadmap. 

A substantial part of this has been the shift to renewable energy sources such as solar or wind. According to the International Energy Agency’s most recent report, renewable electricity capacity additions reached an estimated 507 GW in 2023, almost 50% higher than in 2022 and will continue to increase in the next five years, with solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind accounting for a record 96%. 

This has undoubtedly been a considerable shift and is proving a positive move, but energy sources such as solar and wind can be sporadic, leaving organisations reliant on traditional energy from the grid to maintain their processes and production. These costs have risen dramatically in recent years, but is there a way for renewable installers to help clients reduce their reliance on the grid as well as their costs? 

What is VO?

Voltage optimisation (VO) is the practice of reducing the incoming voltage supplied to electrical equipment, ensuring the optimum voltage is supplied and preventing overloading devices that can potentially cause burnout or faults. 

The national grid supplies homes and businesses with up to 253 volts, however electrical equipment in the UK is designed to work at around 220v. The difference is not only wasted energy, it also costs money and can cause equipment to wear out sooner through continual overload.  

VO reduces voltage levels and ensures the best energy efficiency without compromising on performance, and the good news is it can also complement renewables. 

Extending the lifespan of renewable technologies 

VO can protect the renewable generator by expanding its lifespan and ensuring it’s not overloaded by being subjected to higher voltage than is necessary. Renewable energy apparatus such as solar PV panels are susceptible to overload and burnout just like other electric equipment, such as bulbs, compressors and heaters. VO can protect this business investment by prolonging its lifespan. 

Secondly, microgenerators like PV inverters need to lift their voltages higher than the grid-supplied voltage. Generally, because the UK grid supply is already higher than necessary, this even higher PV voltage can have a negative effect on the electrical equipment on-site, making it consume more energy than it needs to, and shortening its life expectancy. 

A voltage optimiser will reduce the consumption of appliances and protect them from over-voltage whether being fed from the grid or solar panels.  

Maximising generated energy 

VO also helps renewable energy generation go further. If, for example, solar generation can provide 10% of an organisation’s energy requirements, and VO can reduce the overall energy use, that will increase the proportion of energy that renewable generation can cover.  

Where battery storage systems are also employed, these will deliver the supply longer after the sun has gone down, because the electrical equipment in use isn’t drawing as much from them when via a voltage optimiser.  

Working in tandem 

Essentially, utilising VO increases renewable energy’s ability to cover a higher proportion of a site’s energy requirements. A misconception is often that if other energy saving technologies are implemented then there’s no need for VO, but that’s simply not the case.  

VO works in tandem with renewable energy generation not only to protect the equipment itself, but also to magnify the generated energy’s reach when it comes to covering the site’s energy needs.  

Electrical resellers, contractors and consultants can offer higher value to their customers by combining renewable energy generation with VO, providing a more complete – and effective – energy saving solution.  

How to calculate potential energy savings  

To fully understand the potential benefits to a business, there are a few ways installers can work with customers to calculate this. Undertaking an energy audit helps organisations to fully understand how much energy they are using and what it is costing them annually in energy bills. Armed with information on historical energy bills, the most energy-intensive equipment and consumption patterns, electrical contractors can work with a VO manufacturer and supplier to calculate how much money they could save.   

Overloading equipment shortens its overall lifespan, but there are some products that are particularly sensitive to overload, such as non-LED lighting and some heating elements. These items are likely to ‘burn out’ faster and have a reduced lifespan if constantly overloaded. It’s important for renewable energy installers to calculate the cost of equipment replacement in the overall potential cost savings for customers who may be unaware of the impact the high voltage is having on its equipment.  

Installing VO

After a report has been carried out to determine how much energy could be saved by installing VO, it’s time to consider the installation and best solutions.   

To start with, an installation survey, which looks at the physical elements, will help to determine where, when and how to fit the VO equipment, including whether it needs to be installed outside the building. From the results, the team working on the project can specify the best solutions, as well as calculate the full kit price. The calculation will also determine the payback timescales for how long it will take for customers to get a full return on their investment; this is different for every project, but is often as little as 6-18 months.  

For sustainability consultants and electrical engineers, working closely with customers, VO is an incredibly compelling, straightforward and quick-return energy saving initiative, where clients see both cost and energy reductions, resulting in a reduced carbon footprint. The fact that the resulting cost savings can be accurately calculated and presented to the customer before the project starts, should make VO a clear investment for them and an easy sell for the electrical contractor or installer.   

VO is a proven, reliable technology which can save businesses significant amounts of energy, money and carbon emissions. With sustainability and cost savings two of the most pressing board-level concerns in any business, the ability to save up to 19% of their electrical equipment’s energy consumption by installing a voltage optimiser is a compelling undertaking. For electrical contractors and installers who can offer the advice and service relating to this technology, there are huge opportunities for them to become part of the move for businesses to become more sustainable in the long run.  

Image: GWE Stock