Edison Revisited: Should we use DC Circuits for Lighting in Commercial Buildings?

March 7, 2012 - 12:30pm
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This seminar summarizes work from a forthcoming Energy Policy paper and thoughts on future work to understand the economics of DC building circuits.  We examined the economic feasibility of a general application of DC building circuits to operate commercial lighting systems.  We compare light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and fluorescents that are powered by either a central DC power supply or traditional AC grid electricity, with and without solar photovoltaics (PV) and battery back-up.  We find that there are limited life-cycle ownership cost and capital cost benefits of DC circuits for this application, when considering capital, wiring, energy, installation, and maintenance costs, unless used in buildings powered by grid-connected solar PV or using batteries. In the PV-powered case, building owners could save 4-21% on capital costs and 2-21% on levelized annual costs of LED lighting systems in 2012.  Even when used with solar PV, the cost savings with DC building circuits will decline over time, given the large cost share and faster cost reductions expected for solar PV and LEDs vs. the small cost share and lower cost reductions expected for the power electronics for the system. Further work is needed to better understand the cost and efficiency trajectories of AC vs. DC power electronics, the potential safety risks with DC distribution, and to remove design, installation, permitting, and regulatory barriers. A recording of this seminar is available at:  http://www.vimeo.com/38658805  

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