Property & Buildings
Engineering Innovation

Setting the Stage for a Battery-Powered Future

Charles Chaloeicheep is confident that a practical alternative to diesel-powered backup generators for buildings is close at hand.


Charles Chaloeicheep

Chaloeicheep, a mechanical engineer and senior associate for built ecology in WSP USA's Honolulu office, is preparing a study, Energy Storage Replacements for Diesel Generators, that will help identify when battery storage is applicable for WSP USA projects and will support the proliferation of power storage on new and existing buildings.

“Although cost is important, the flexibility, reliability, space advantages and maintenance of batteries is superior to diesel generators and can carry the technology through short-term financial challenges,” Chaloeicheep said. “In the long term, we anticipate batteries to drop in cost making the financial argument for diesel generation moot.”

Chaloeicheep, who was recently selected by WSP for a 2017 Research and Innovation Fellowship, credited a team effort for the progress that has been made with the research on battery storage solutions. WSP’s annual Research & Innovation Fellowship Program is designed to foster and accelerate the development and application of bright ideas by providing seed funding and mentoring.

“This idea is something that a few of us at WSP have been working on for a while, including Kevin Luoma in Hawaii, Claire McKenna in San Francisco, Taylor Burdge in Boulder, and Chris Edmonds and Philip Jonat in New York,” he said.

Some clients have already started incorporating this technology into their projects, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium designed by the San Francisco office. But Chaloeicheep anticipates that interest will grow as it becomes a practical alternative and a more common practice.

“I hope that our research proves fruitful and creates an opportunity for WSP to be at the forefront of this shift in design approach to a small, but important, piece of our buildings.”

The Future Is Now

While battery technology has provided a way to back up data rooms, it has been unable to provide sufficient energy density to serve as a practical primary backup for buildings.



Chaloeicheep was part of the WSP team that provided engineering services for the construction of Federal Center South, the headquarters for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Seattle.

“With the anticipated expansion of lithium-ion battery production and driven by the exponential increases in battery-powered cars, cost will no longer be a hurdle,” Chaloeicheep said.”

A lack of clear requirements or codes has also been a hurdle that is vanishing as authorities are adopting a newer version of the National Electrical Code that clarifies requirements for energy storage and helps mitigate risk.

“Today the power density of a battery system is comparable to a diesel generator, particularly for loads below 750 kilowatts, which needs to maintain a building's emergency system for 90 minutes,” Chaloeicheep said.

In 10 years, batteries are likely to be the standard for backing up typical buildings and can add the benefit of demand control and grid stabilization. “We believe that WSP possesses the skill set to bring this technology to our clients.”

Already, Chaloeicheep and his colleagues are evaluating projects in Honolulu, San Francisco, New York and Seattle where diesel generators can be replaced with battery storage options.

“As we resolve the solution for our pilot building projects, I hope we can roll out our solution as a new service to all existing buildings with generators," Chaloeicheep said. "I'd like to start in Hawaii, where the energy grid is saturated and can greatly benefit from distributed storage.”



The expansion of the Moscone Center in San Francisco was designed to meet LEED Platinum standards. Chaloeicheep is hoping projects like this will be able to incorporate efficient battery-powered backup systems in the near future.

For the short-term, he anticipates that batteries will be viable for buildings under 500,000-square-feet to backup emergency lighting, elevators and fire water pumps for 90 minutes. “Based on projects we have worked on in Honolulu and the West Coast, this represents over 90 percent of all building backup generators,” he said.

Environmental Experience

Chaloeicheep was born in San Francisco and raised in neighboring Oakland. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California-Santa Barbara and received a master’s degree in sustainable development from University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

Since joining WSP in 2007, he has had the opportunity to work in several locations around the world, including Sydney, San Francisco, Seattle and currently in Hawaii.

His past projects have included:

  • Federal Center South in Seattle, a 209,000-square-foot facility that serves as the headquarters for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, where he helped develop an efficient system that requires 26.8 kBtu/sf/yr;
  • Rufus 2.0 – Amazon in Seattle, where he helped design a district energy system that has recovered more than 2TWh of waste heat for heating the campus since opening in 2016; and
  • Moscone Center expansion in San Francisco, where he helped design the convention center’s net positive water system.

His current projects in Hawaii include work on the construction of a new three-story U.S. General Services Administration Courthouse in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands; construction of a new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) building at Kohala High School on the big island of Hawaii; expansion of Honowai Elementary School in Waipahu; and construction of the new 30,000-square-foot Kona Brewing Company facility in Kailua-Kona.


“It is our responsibility to take care of our families and our future.” – Charles Chaloeicheep

While living in San Francisco Chaloeicheep was involved with Grid Alternatives, a solar power non-profit that is also supported by WSP. He also volunteered with Boost! West Oakland – a one-on-one tutoring and mentoring program for elementary school students in West Oakland.

Preserving the ’Aina

Chaloeicheep said his past decade with WSP has created opportunities “to be involved with and influence the largest and most exciting projects in the world and to meet the best, learn from the best, and to compete with the best.”

He strives to “take very complicated things and make them sound simple to empower others and create a greater understanding so that clients can make the best decisions for their projects and the ’aina (the Hawaiian word for land).

“Our Honolulu office takes great pride in working toward 100 percent clean energy for Hawaii," Chaloeicheep continued. “We hope that our work here can inspire other offices and projects around the world. It is our responsibility to take care of our families and our future.”


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