“Digital electricity is the first new format of electricity in 150 years since the invention of AC and DC,” says James Eaves, Director of Indoor Agriculture at VoltServer. Inc. VoltServer™ is an American company that was founded in 2011 through Steve Eaves’ efforts to find a new form of electricity that was both high-voltage and safe to touch.
“What is fundamentally different with Digital Electricity is that with AC and DC, touching a line or a loose connection is extremely dangerous. The electricity doesn’t recognize a human touching the line or a loose connection in the circuit, so it can keep transmitting, even when it shouldn’t,” explains James. “Digital Electricity is the first electricity that knows to shut off if a human touches it or if there is a loose connection that could start a fire.”
As James explains, Digital Electricity has major implications for the vertical farming industry as it allows farms to improve energy efficiency and reduce installation costs. The latter is due to the company’s ability to distribute high-voltage power as a “Limited Power Source.” The installation of high-voltage current has traditionally required expensive installation methods, lots of safety devices, and a lot of conduit. This makes traditional electrical installations expensive and long.
When electricity distribution is classified by the IEC as a Limited Power Source, you can use much faster and less expensive wiring methods. The catch is that the losses from the circuit cannot exceed 100W. As conventional AC/DC technology cannot monitor losses, Limited Power Source systems are traditionally installed by limiting the power transmitted to ≤ 100 W. While this is sufficient to power smaller devices, it is not enough to power the HVAC, horticulture lighting and large motors in a vertical farm. As such, Limited Power Source systems have not offered significant value to vertical farms.
The high power of AC meets the simplicity of Ethernet
Digital Electricity is the first electricity format that can transmit high-voltage electricity and deliver thousands of watts while still qualifying as a Limited Power Source.
This is possible since Digital Electricity can limit the amount of power that can be dissipated into a fault, thus preventing shock and fire hazards typically associated with power transmission levels greater than 100W. As the company’s website explains, “Digital Electricity is an innovative method for distributing power with the high-power aspects of AC and the safety and simplicity of Power over Ethernet (PoE).”
“Imagine that a forklift cuts a wire – with digital technology, it would be fine if that exposed wire touched something as the loss would be recognized and the power would be cut off within 2 milliseconds. There is no need for conduit, which shortens the installation time and reduces the carbon footprint of the system,” says James.
VoltServer has become the standard in the telecommunication industry because it is faster, safer and cheaper. According to James, this should be no different in vertical farms. He estimates that Digital Electricity can lower the costs of energy distribution in a vertical farm by 15-20% and reduce energy use by 4-5% due to the inherent efficiencies of a fully monitored system.
Working with LED companies to eliminate drivers
According to James, VoltServer is also working with nine LED companies who offer driverless LEDs that are compatible with Digital Electricity.
“The LED driver converts AC to DC, which generates heat and wastes power. With our system, those drivers are eliminated from grow spaces and replaced with 1/6 the number in the electrical room. This means that you have fewer LED failures, more airflow, and you can displace some heat generation to the electrical room, where it is easier to manage.
By working with LED companies directly, VoltServer is looking to ensure that vertical farms will have all the tools necessary to build more digital, efficient and safer farms by employing more intelligent power distribution.