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Science Technology

World's Biggest Battery Switched On in Alaska 103

Posted by michael
from the drum-beating-bunny dept.
windowpain writes "An article in the London Telegraph describes a 2,000 square meter 13,730 cell NiCad UPS that will provide backup power for the entire city of Fairbanks for up to seven minutes. 'This is enough time, according to ABB, to start up diesel generators to restore power, an important safeguard since at such low temperatures, water pipes can freeze entirely in two hours.' Now if they can just remember to keep it plugged in." Update: 08/28 14:58 GMT by M : A reader notes that the battery has enough juice for 12,000 people for seven minutes, and the city of Fairbanks has a population of over 80,000, so they couldn't keep the whole city powered up for even a minute.
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World's Biggest Battery Switched On in Alaska

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  • hehe (Score:2, Funny)

    by miruku (642921)
    i wonder how long my mp3 player would last on that thing..
    • Re:hehe (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Longer than you will live.

      Lets see 20 watts/hour(estimated) draw on a 40 megawatt system (40,000,000 watts) Gives you about 2,000,000 hours of music or about 83,333 days or about 228 years.

    • What kind? It won't be too long if it's a Nomad Jukebox.
  • WOuldnt some other kind of energy storage be better? Liv eheard ideas about using flywheels, compressed air and damn near everythign else. But those might not have the same instant on capability.
    • ...the cheapest bid. Don't forget that Cities and Municipalities operate on a budget, and although Flywheel Energy Storage units may have been more environment friendly and cheaper for long-term maintenance, they were probably far more expensive up-front. Long-term financing isn't often a concern for short-term problems, so my guess is that the 2k sq. ft. battery was the cheapest.
      • Long-term financing isn't often a concern for short-term problems, so my guess is that the 2k sq. ft. battery was the cheapest.

        I'm also guessing that Fairbanks' residents didn't care about 13,730 containers of Cadmium all in one place right near where they live.
        • Since the cadmium is sealed in little steel cylinders and will be sent (by law) to a recycler when "dead," I can't see how this would be a problem. Not much worse than having a few thousand gallons of diesel fuel in storage for the generator...
          • Not much worse than having a few thousand gallons of diesel fuel in storage for the generator...

            Agreed, but I'd rather deal with cleanup up diesel fuel then Cadmium that spread over ten acres due to a natural disaster or an accident.

            Hmmm...I wonder what a big flywheel that gets loose and spins through town on the way to the ocean would do...(nothing is perfect, I guess).
            • the weather has something to do with it. Earthquake [alaska.edu] weather in particular.

              But I could be wrong, yes?

            • There have been assorted investigations into flywheels which disintegrate when they come loose, especially for automotive use. For power storage in a stationary location, you just bury them very deeply and make sure that the vault is constructed in such a way that they will want to dig and not climb, and then you can make them as solid as you like, limited only by the capacity of your bearings. An array of disintegrating flywheels could be installed above ground, or an array (redundancy complicates things b
    • Indeed, the start-up issue is probably the biggest. After all, once the generators are up and running then the battery isn't needed.

      I wonder if it has some sort of "inform" option that automatically starts the generators when power blanks, or if that gives personnel 7 minutes to do so before things start blanking out.
  • I want one of those as my UPS... I wonder how many VA it is (I can't RTFA because it requires a subscription)... How much did this thing cost, BTW? It might have made more sense to create a smaller UPS just to power essential systems (water pumps, hospitals, etc.)...
  • 12 stones! (Score:2, Informative)

    by wiswaud (22478)
    "each battery weighs more than 12 stones..."
    if you were wondering about this like me ("what size of stone" :) ), i just found out about that unit of mass (here: http://www.ex.ac.uk/cimt/dictunit/ccmass.htm) and 12 stones is 168lbs or 76.2 kg.
    and i thought slugs were the weirdest invention in that backwards unit system...
    please convert to SI!!! :)
    • Slugs are worse then stones. Converting from stones is a simple x * stones, where x is about 6.4. Slugs are used somewhere in physics to make rocket science as hard as it is.
      • by Cy Guy (56083) *
        Slugs are worse then stones.... Slugs are used somewhere in physics to make rocket science as hard as it is.

        Well, thanks to Google calculator that should no longer be a problem: 1 stone = 0.435133302 slugs [google.com] .

        1 slug = 32.1740486 pounds [google.com] or 14.5939029 kilograms
        • a slug isnt a unit of mass. Mind you, thats the problem with imperial - you confuse mass and force, and use pounds for both.
          • a slug isnt a unit of mass. Mind you, thats the problem with imperial - you confuse mass and force, and use pounds for both.

            You were the one comparing it to stones, GOOGLE aparently thinks there are two distinct units of measure called slugs, one being a unit of mass, the other being a unit of force. Given that you want the unit of force, here is GOOGLE's formula for converting to foot-pounds: 1 slug = 9.67412023 x 10^17 foot-pounds [google.com] , or for metric units 1 slug = 1.31163458 x 10^18 Newton mete [google.com]
            • I was comparing the idioticity of the name and the value of the respective units. Google's wrong, if 1 slug = xNm, then it is x kgm^2s^-2. A newton is a measure of force, a slug is a unit of force multiplied by distance. I might want a unit of force, but unless you give me a distance, a slug ont be any good whatsoever.

              Mixing and matching force and mass is just the tip of the iceberg of what is wrong with the imperial system for scientific calculations.
          • Mind you, thats the problem with imperial - you confuse mass and force, and use pounds for both

            It's the same as the SI system: mass=pounds/kilograms, force=pound-feet/kilogram-meters. The fact that SI simply introduces a special name (Newtons) to disguise the mass-distance unit is the only difference.

            SI generally has no advantage over the imperial system other than the fact that it is mostly standardised across countries. The British ton, for example, is bigger than the American ton and there is some dif

            • A proper gallon is 4.54 litres - 8 pints (568ml). A U.S. Gallon is smaller, arround 3.5l

              Force (admitadly its been a while since I did any physics) is measured in kgms^-2 not kgm. (F (N) = m (kg) * a (ms^2)
    • by slug359 (533109)
      Pounds are the strangest imperial unit, you insensitive clod.
    • and i thought slugs were the weirdest invention in that backwards unit system... please convert to SI!!! :)

      I don't know what it is with the British... I'm an American, and we use pounds, tons, inches, feet, yards, & acres.

      I picked up the British version of Maxim, and I could not understand half of what they were saying... stones, rods, hogsheads, ... wtf?

      And they claim they use SI!

      And people say the US is backwards! :P

  • Around the 5th of August give or take a day, the power substation for the town I was living in at the time (Rolla, MO) caught fire, cutting power for the better part of two days to the entire town. The city is supposedly fitted with backup generators capable of running everything in the event of such a power loss. Yet, it took the better part of two hours for the backup power to even come on. And when it did, only a few select areas of town had power at all. Do they really think they are going to be abl
  • batteries not included?
  • What can you do in seven minutes?

    You can fix a mistake.
  • Imagine... (Score:5, Funny)

    by kinnell (607819) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:10AM (#6814326)
    The giant energiser bunny of the apocalypse.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The really impressive item is the huge 9-pin serial connector between the UPS and the city. Pins the size of manholes!
  • A reader notes that the battery has enough juice for 12,000 people for seven minutes, and the city of Fairbanks has a population of over 80,000, so they couldn't keep the whole city powered up for even a minute.
    How exactly is this calculated (as in "This battery will power 12,000 people!")?

    I mean, the only clear cut "This person needs this amount of power" statistic I can think of would be a rather gruesome one: perhaps Fairbanks has a lot of electric chairs...

    • Most of the time, these calculations are done assuming ~1kW per home. i.e. if someone says "the plant uses as much power as 10,000 homes" then they mean it uses 10MW.

      We all know it's flawed; it's based on statistics of the average (over some time) usage.

  • I want to get a UPS to power 3 computers and a modem for something on the order of 10 seconds when power drops. Do I really need a full blown 1000VA UPS for megabucks? Can I use a lower VA rating for less time? How much power does a typical base unit use. Howabout a CRT?
    • by JCMay (158033) <JeffMayNO@SPAMearthlink.net> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @12:32PM (#6815860) Homepage
      Yes, you can. "Volt-amps" are units of electric power, V*I, where V and I are vectors (the load may be reactive and the V vector and the I vector may not be parallel). If the V and I vectors are going in the same direction, they can be considered scalars and "volt-amps" becomes "watts."

      Batteries are rated in "Amp-hour" ratings. That is, they can (to a first approximation), deliver current "I" for time "t" where I*t= the rating. I say "to a first approximation" because the time-to-discharge as a function of current draw is not actually linear, but is really more like an exponential.

      Of course, there's some efficiency lost in the DC-AC converter electronics. I don't have a clue what it is; perhaps 80% efficiency is good?

      So you have a setup like mine: PC with 500W supply, monitor, printer, speakers. I would recommend NOT putting the printer and speakers on the UPS. Only essential equipment that needs power in order to shut everything down gracefully should be on the UPS.

      My monitor eats maybe 50W, and my PC consumes 500W max: 550W worst-case.

      According to this page [apcc.com], a APC BackUPS 650 (rated for 640VA), will operate a 400W load for seven minutes. With a perfect 120V output, that (perfectly resistive!) load is drawing 3.333A. With the 80% efficiency I mentioned above, it implies that the battery has an amp-hour rating of about 0.5Ah (500mAh). (0.5Ah * 0.8 eff)/3.333A = 0.12 hours (7.2 minutes).

      My 550W load (assuming again that it's purely resistive) will draw 4.6A at 120V. This same UPS (assuming that the switching electronics can handle it!) will operate my machine for 0.087 hour (5.2 minutes), plenty of time to shut down.

      So: to find the minimum-sized UPS you need, add up the load of the essential equipment, calculate the required current, and find a UPS with a big enough battery to provide you with a comfortable shutdown time.
      • But remember that 300W is 300W rms - about 350W peak.

        My desktop doesnt draw anything near 500W though, it's only get a 250W PSU. Any way I can measure the current (and hence power) without jamming an ammeter in the socket?

        The crux of the matter is will a lower-rated UPS run a higher-rated system for a shorter time, without melting?
        • I normally don't think of "peak" values. That 120V I used is the RMS value, not the peak value. Working with microwave circuits, I normally don't even think about voltages and currents, but the RMS power delivered (in log units).

          My response was an anwer of "maybe." It depends on the DC-AC converter electronics. Look at the max deliverable currents; you don't want to exceed those. Beyond that, it only depends on how long you want the thing to work!
        • Any way I can measure the current (and hence power) without jamming an ammeter in the socket?

          Yes, some high-end multimeters have a coil that senses current when placed around a wire.
      • VA is such a scam in UPS marketing...
        VA should = Watts, but the output of most UPS's is nowhere near a sine wave, so there's a huge loss in efficiency.

        Back in the days of 386's, I told a friend a 200VA UPS would be enough to run his PC & 14" monitor. It was, but the battery died in a few months, for unknown reasons. Triplite gave him a VERY hard time about returning it, claiming it was too small for his PC, and tried to push him into trading it for a larger model.

        They really should CLEARLY state the r
      • So you have a setup like mine: PC with 500W supply, monitor, printer, speakers...
        My monitor eats maybe 50W, and my PC consumes 500W max: 550W worst-case.

        Your power supply's max rated output is 500W. Switching power supply's are around 75-80% efficient, so your computer could be drawing 666W continuous, maybe even more peak.

        Of course, I doubt you have enough components in the computer to actually use 500W, but thought I should mention it.

        Also, a lot of bigger monitors draw 75-150W. (I don't know what y

        • Your power supply's max rated output is 500W. Switching power supply's are around 75-80% efficient, so your computer could be drawing 666W continuous, maybe even more peak.

          Good catch. I mentioned the efficiency of the DC-AC converter in the UPS, but forgot to mention this one.

          yes, some monitors do draw more power (I really ought to look at my book and see what I actually draw :), I was hoping that he'd be able to compile a list of his stuff and figure out what he needs.

    • first, measure the current and you'll have part of the answer.

      Second, you're talking about two different things. There's run-time (a measure of total power stored -- wattage) and VA (a measure of current capacity). You can't take a 350VA UPS and run three computers off of it for 10 seconds just because it says it will power one computer for 5 minutes. The instantaneous current requirements will exceed the capacity of the circuitry in the UPS and burn it out.

    • I would recomend getting a large unit. You do have alternatives however.

      I know for a fact that 2 systems can be run off an MGE EL4 rated at 450 VA or 280 watts. I've run this configuration for several years. So that is the good news.

      The bad news is that this is seriously undersized. The consequence of this undersizing is that the batteries are NOT up to snuff and they will be destroyed in very short order. Note that normally the line current is NOT run through the inverters so normally it will appear
  • Power vs. Energy (Score:5, Informative)

    by linuxwrangler (582055) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:44AM (#6814719)
    As reporters so often do this one screwed up. Watts are a measure of power but "40 megawatts" doesn't give any information about how much _energy_ is stored, only how fast it can be delivered (power). Slashdot's editors "corrected" the story but only by recalculating based on incorrect interpretation of power and energy.

    A typical average - at least in the lower 48 - is 1kw/household so 40 megawatts should handle 40,000 homes. For how long? We don't have that info other than the article's claim of 7 minutes. Assuming they got their signals crossed and mean that it can deliver 40 megawatts for 7 minutes then the batteries store 40,000kw * 7 minutes / 60 minutes = 4666kWh of energy.

    For comparison, a AA nicad holds ~.75wh or .00075 kWh of energy so based on the preceding assumptions this battery bank is the equivalent of somewhat over 6 million AA batteries.

    Another article [news-miner.com] indicates that the purpose is not to power the entire city but to carry the excess load when a single plant drops off line. Fairbanks does have outside feeds and multiple local plants just like the continental US but it has fewer of each so loss of a plant can cause a proportionately larger swing in the supply. It appears that this battery bank is really a load leveler, not a UPS.

    • 1 Watt = 1 Joule per second

      1 kWh = 1000 * 3600 = 3,600,000 Joules = 3.6MJ

      if this giant battery can provide 40MW for 7 minutes then thats 16,800,000,000 Joules, 16.8GJ, which is quite a lot...
    • 1 kw/household? Is this 'typical' or 'average'? I have a 750/1500 watt heater. Does that mean if I use the heater on maximum I am consuming 1.5 households worth of electricity?
      • That's an average used by the power industry. It's averaged over time (24 hours), so it includes the time when you're sleeping and when you're not home (at work?). Peak usage of a typical home in the U.S. can get into the 10's of KW. (typical home fed by 60Amp main --> 14.4kW peak before tripping the breaker).
  • by Cy Guy (56083) * on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:45AM (#6814723) Homepage Journal
    I submitted this to the Editor on duty, but aparently not in time. Fairbanks has over 80,000 people, not just 12,000 that the battery is capable of supporting for 7 minutes. Alaska is rural, but not so rural that its second largest city only has 12,000 people.

    FYI - I had family living in Fairbanks for a while so here is some trivia regarding the weather there:

    Everyone must have three plug-in heaters in their car, one for the oil pan, one for the radiator, and one for the battery. All major shopping centers have outdoor outlets to plug your car into while you shop.

    In addition to being wicked cold, their is essentially 0% humidity, this results in extremely high risk of static shock. And on a cold day you can actually throw hot coffee in the air and it fall to the ground as instant coffee.

    The whole city is built on permafrost, so for any major construction they have to sink pilings into the ground to support the buidling once its ambient heat melts the soil below it.

    The city is south of the arctic circle by a couple hundred miles, but there is small mountain nearby that if you drive to the top you can see the sun for 24 hours straigh on the summer soltice. THe favorite solstice activity is a city wide charity run.

    In the Winter, there is nearby town that holds an annual statewide contest to guess when the river will melt sufficiently to allow a bouy to float freely. This event is called "break-up".

  • by c0enzyme (221872)
    Hopefully they have thought ahead with reguards to how they will dispose of this in the future.

    I would have to have the worlds largest NiCad leak Cadmium into the Alaskan soil.

    • dude, if you're gonna worry about cadmium batteries, learn about the law. It requires them to be recycled.
      • dude, if you're gonna trust the law, learn about lawyers. They're just like cornered rats only not as friendly.

      • Dude, in case you haven't noticed, the government isn't enforcing environmental law anymore.
        Take mountaintop removal mining, for instance. The Clean Water Act says that you can't dump waste into a stream or degrade it's quality but coal mining corporations blast away entire mountain groups in a watershed and fill up the steams of Appalachia with the waste to the tune of about 1000 miles of streams completely lost and buried so far.
        The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act says that a strip mine must re
    • by Kris_J (10111)
      I would have thought one of those new industrial flywheels would have been a better solution...
  • by morcheeba (260908) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @11:27AM (#6815186) Journal
    40MW for 7 minutes = 4.6 MWattHours. A D-cell is 12 AmpHours [umsystem.edu] * 1.5 = 18 WattHours, so this battery pack is equivalent to 260,000 D-cells. A D-cell is 60 mm long [batterieswholesale.com], so this is would be a Mag Light 9.6 Miles Long!. Here's an artist's rendering [maglite.com]
  • by the darn (624240) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @11:34AM (#6815243) Homepage
    Does it emit a heart-stopping, ear-splitting banshee wail when it kicks in? Because the lights going off just isn't sufficent notice that the power is out...
  • by Zarf (5735) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @11:50AM (#6815401) Journal
    and one year there was a power outage on campus over christmas break. The called out the national guard. No kidding. They had to kick in back up generators and such to keep stuff from freezing up because it was sixty below.

    Fortunately the city of Fairbanks was still with power and in a few hours they re-routed power to the University. This wasn't just good for keeping people from freezing in the dorms (the poor sots like me who didn't go home for the holidays) but it was very good for the Cray which was being threatened with imminent condesation...

    If the whole city of Fairbanks lost power I wonder how people would have coped. I suppose families would have moved in together. Houses with wood stoves would have been very crowded... I wonder if there's even enough housing with other means of heating to support the whole town?
  • by seanmeister (156224) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @12:03PM (#6815536) Homepage
    Once Fairbanks is hooked up to the Matrix, the other 68,000 people will serve as backup power when the NiCads punk out.
  • by nortcele (186941) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @12:15PM (#6815673) Homepage
    You can UPS some "critical" circuits in your own house for a much longer period of time by using a Whole House UPS [nooutage.com].

    It will also keep your boat battery charged up for your next fishing trip. Note however, that this does not negate the need for some sort of a power filter on your computer. This would allow your gas appliances to work and your microwave.

    Now I'm not a Y2K-store-Xyears-of-food-live-in-a-cave fruitcake. I just don't want to be the grasshopper, and I want to provide for my family during outages that seem more common than they should. An extended winter power-outage at -25deg F. adjusted my perspective. All you need is shelter/water/heat/food. Maybe a little love too...

  • Why back up power in a centralized location using batteries when you could just let each building back up itself? It's not like you're going to gain any efficiency using 13,760 NiCad cells in a central location instead of in 13,760 locations. Seems like a huge waste of money to me.

    As for water pipes freezing in two hours, they don't freeze in 7 minutes while waiting for the backup generators to kick in.

    • Will the buildings automatically power the heaters for the water mains? I doubt it, but it's possible that they would, or the mains don't need heating for some reason. I imagine they need the power to keep just the critical services running, not to actually power the entire city (despite what the article says).

      On the other hand, it's important to note that while the backup generators may be able to come online within 7 minutes when they have a battery backup to power them, the situation becomes much more c
      • Will the buildings automatically power the heaters for the water mains?

        Isn't that what they do when the power is on?

        I imagine they need the power to keep just the critical services running, not to actually power the entire city (despite what the article says).

        Good point. The article doesn't actually say the power is for powering the entire city, just that it would be enough to power 12,000 people for 7 minutes. But then the whole frozen water pipe scenario seems to be but a minor issue. There's no

        • One of the biggest issues with getting power stations started up is syncing them all together. B/c our power system uses alternating currents (AC), the frequencies have to be syncronized when bringing them online, or it can cause even more problems. That, I heard, was one of the biggest challanges of bringing the NE power back online when power plants were being knocked out and having to be reinitiated.
    • err...

      Savings in control circuitry?

      Centralisation of diesel backup units?

      Installation costs?

      Maintenance costs?

      I could no doubt think of more, but that's just what I thought up while typing the reply...

  • The city of Fairbanks has a population closer to 40,000. The surrounding small towns and military installations almost double that, but I don't they're included in the backup plan. I think the batteries are supposed to provide power to 12,000 hourseholds, rather than individuals. In the slightly more than 2 years that I've lived here in Fairbanks, I've noticed that the town is plagued by frequent brief interruptions in the power. Just enough to get all the clocks in the house blinking. The TV ads promoting
    • I live in the Matanuska-Susitna valley a couple of hundred miles south of Fairbanks, and we get power glitches too. Sometimes all it takes is someone driving into a power pole or the frequent strong winds knocking over a tree. No battery backup would help us then, and that's why I long ago invested in alternate sources of heat and power.

      It seems to me that the interruptions to power have been more frequent of late, but I used to work in the Bush a lot more, so maybe I didn't notice it, being so far from Th

  • Why in the world use NiCads, with all of the toxic problems related to cadimum, when NiMH battery technology would have let them build safer batteries with about 3x the power capacity and without other NiCad problems like the memory effect? In two weeks will we read that this was just another hoax repeated on slashdot? (And why can't I find the story from last night of the hoax about the guy with his "new theory of time" either by scanning back articles or using the search tool and looking for words like h
    • Re:Why NiCads??? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Zarquon (1778)
      Because nicads can deliver greater currents than equivalent NiMH? When delivering full capacity in 7 minutes, you want something with a low internal resistance.

      And please note that NiCADs have shown exactly _one_ verified situation that will cause the memory effect: Satellites. The batteries have to be discharged to _exactly_ the same level over and over to show the memory effect.

      Most NiCADs suffer from overheating, overcharging, and simple wear and tear (most consumer batteries are designed for ~500-1000
    • it is here [slashdot.org]
      Its in the Slashback section. The guys name is Peter Lynds.

      Cheers,
      krysith
  • Just a shot in the dark, but maybe having an instant backup will allow them to reliably start up the backup generators? If the backups are gas driven, they could easily get cranky (no pun intended) if the power fails and the heat goes out.

Real Users find the one combination of bizarre input values that shuts down the system for days.

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