Given the urgent need to dump diesel generators, suppliers rolling out a host of zero emissions alternatives for production power. Even five years ago, the viability of battery power for sustained use on a production was still in doubt, but now a team looking for fully battery power is spoiled for choice.
BPS (Broadcast & Production Services) has been a leading supplier of professional production kit for 20 years. Based in the London suburb of Hampton, the company is an authorized dealer of ARRI, Canon, Blackmagic, Panasonic, SmallHD, and Manfrotto among other brands.
The company’s founder and MD, John O’Reilly – aka “Jono” – began to make sustainability a part of the company’s mindset when he began to experience the effects of climate change himself: “Being a keen gardener, I noticed – I think we’ve all noticed – how the seasons were changing and shifting.”
Aware of the pressing need to decarbonize power everywhere, O’Reilly bet on battery power being the next, necessary step in production power solutions.
Betting on batteries
“Battery power is the cleanest and the best way forward for the industry,” says O’Reilly. “We do have HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) but the problem is that the top-grade oil is still 50% palm oil, and the sustainability is not so good there. And then actually driving back and forth between locations with a truck to refill the generators is not sustainable.”
Hydrogen power is also problematic, O’Reilly believes. True green hydrogen is expensive to produce and at present there are no readily available hydrogen options for production power. O’Reilly expresses concerns about the explosive potential of hydrogen under pressure if it’s badly managed (though hydrogen is generally considered to be safer in a fire than most fossil fuels).
BPS has built a family of zero emissions generators, branded NXTGENbps (“bps” stands for “Broadcast & Production Services”, but when paired with the NXTGENbps brand, it’s “Beautiful Power Solutions”). These lithium ion batteries range from a 4kW/5kWh portable unit that fits inside a pelican case to a 50kW /25kWh generator rated for the power needs of film production, big entertainment events, construction and industry.
The units are, in order of size, The Meerkat, The Goat, The Billy Goat and The Bear. Alongside them are a production energy monitoring solution called The Owl.
“To make things a bit cuddlier, instead of naming products the “X7429098″, we’ve gone for animal names.”
The Meerkat is a system in two sealed peli cases on wheels, which contain a lithium-ion battery and a power conversion box connected to the battery by a cable. The unit can be flat-stacked or stand upright – like a meerkat – and can provide electrical power up to 16A with a 230AC output. An LED indicator on the side of the conversion box indicates battery charge. The Meerkat battery pack weighs 44kg and power conversion box – or “brain” as O’Reilly calls it – is 16kg.
The 5kWh Meerkat is suitable for general flexible power needs, like running catering appliances, or a powering lighting, camera and microphones for a mobile news team. To fully charge the Meerkat from a 13 amp plug takes roughly 3 hours.
The Goat – and friend
A more robust solution is the NXTGENbps Goat (see image at top). The Goat is a 5kW battery-powered generator offering 4.8 kilowatt hours of power, housed inside a cast aluminum and carbon fiber casing. It comes in a 16 or 32 single-phase output configurations.
The Goat is expandable with a unit called the Billy Goat, which is a battery only solution that can be connected with The Goat, together providing up to 15kW of power. Up to 16 Billy Goat units can be daisy-chained to the goat for more power. The Goat and Billy Goat are guaranteed for 6000 full charges and runs at £5450.
“The most important thing though,” O’Reilly adds, “is that they also have a USB 3.0 and a USBC output so you can contact your loved ones during your break.”
The units have a charging time of around three hours with a 13amp plug, but the unit can also be replenished using an electrical vehicle charging station in no more than an hour. O’Reilly believes the EV charging feature is unique to NXTGENbps. An EV charging feature is a great option for studios trying to be more sustainable by turning vehicle charging stations in their parking lots to generator charging stations too.
NXTGENbps units can also be charged with solar and the company offers three, six and nine panel options for use with The Goat. Using three 200W solar panels on a sunny day, NXTGENbps has been able to fully power the goat in about five hours.
O’Reilly notes other features that he believes puts NXTGENbps ahead of competitor generators – the Goat weighs less than some other solutions and is, he says, far more waterproof.
“The Goat and Billy Goat are rated at IP67, which means they can be used outside in heavy rain and will still operate.”
NXTGENbps’s biggest generator is called The Bear is a 25kW solution that contains an inverter that effectively expands its output to 50kW. This allows the unit to provide a healthy amount of power but at 650kg still remain relatively light. The unit is aimed at an array of high impact scenarios from film and TV to construction and emergency services and even military use. Around 80 units of The Bear are currently in operation in Europe.
Charging time using a 63A output is about two hours, five hours for 32A and nine hours for 16A. Up to six Bear units can be daisy chained for up to 150kWh of power at 50KW. The noise level of the unit is rated at 52 dB which is about the loudness of most refrigerators. The unit is available in a variety of configurations for different use cases.
NXTGENbps is looking at supplying primarily the European market at present. Shipping costs to the Western Hemisphere would start to make the business model impractical and although the US is a big market, it is. at present well behind Europe in its demand for sustainable production solutions.
Good measuring and monitoring is essential for sustainable production. NXTGENbps have introduced a unit called The Owl – Energy Track Pro Monitoring Solution, a 23kg industry standard distribution box with added monitoring capability that sits between a power source – whether a battery, diesel generator or mains power – all the power feeds on a production. The Owl then delivers through email or the Owl app a full report on usage of power across the production and CO2 savings.
The Owl offers a way to measure and understand power usage and data collection about who and what is really using power on a shoot. Is the lighting really the biggest power draw on a set? Or is it the catering truck? And what appliances, tools or systems are the ones drawing the most power. The Owl can offer some insights.
“It’s actually a new business that people can set up, buying a few Owls and hiring them out to production and delivering reports back to the production. What’s happening now is that people go down to the location and just watch and try to add up the wattage that way. But this they could do from home.”