20 ELECTRICALCONTRACTOR | FEB. 17 | WWW.ECMAG.COM
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“If you’re going to have that redundancy, why not do some-
thing with that power asset?” Wiedetz said. “It’s going to pay
for itself in a couple years.”
Maxine Ghavi, global head of microgrids, ABB, Zurich, sees a
similarly varied list of motivators for her company’s customers,
both in the United States and around the globe.
“Resilience is one of the key drivers, and it may be the ini-
Getting regulators on board
tial reason to consider a microgrid, depending on the sensitivity
of that operation to disruption of service,” she said. “However,
once a prospective customer begins to examine the case for a
microgrid, they soon discover that there are many other value
streams, such as reducing demand charges, peak shifting, demand
response, frequency regulation and carbon displacement.”
For commercial and industrial companies, the primary driv-
ers are some combination of return on investment, resiliency
and power quality.
“If that is the case, it is all about the cost of power from the
grid, versus the cost of distributed generation and the value that
resiliency brings to that operation,” Ghavi said. “For some time
now, many well-known businesses are making large commit-
ments to renewable power, and as such, they evaluate locating
it on site as part of a potential renewable microgrid strategy.”
Seeing opportunities for supporting such strategies, ABB
recently launched a modular solution that pairs hardware
and software controls with an expandable bank of lithium-ion
batteries in a standard shipping container. The company calls
this a plug-and-play solution and offers it in four pre-designed
configurations that range from 50 kilowatts (k W) to 4,600 k W.
As with other distributed energy strategies, microgrid
deployment in the United States can be complicated by state
regulations that prevent utilities from owning generation assets.
Though electric utilities and their customers could benefit from
the added resilience and grid-support that a microgrid could
offer to local distribution systems, most states haven’t figured
out how to recover those costs under current rate schemes.
“This is a hot topic in many states that are looking for ways
to implement public-purpose microgrids in disaster-prone
areas,” Ghavi said. “Placing generation somewhere in the grid
as part of a microgrid may be less expensive than upgrading a
substation or building new transmission lines to serve a grow-
ing load pocket.”
Other states—notably on the East Coast—are incentiviz-
ing microgrid installations. Hurricanes Irene and Sandy hit
Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York hard,
and utility commissioners are looking for ways to encourage
investments that support critical infrastructure in the face of
potentially more frequent severe weather events.
“Resilience is probably the primary driver in North Amer-
ica,” Asmus said. “And, it’s what has led to state programs and
funds specifically going to microgrids.”
For Wiedetz, the advantages microgrids offer in terms
of resilience, integration of renewables and optimization of
existing backup-generation equipment make the technology a
no-brainer in today’s rapidly advancing distribution systems.
The challenge lies in convincing facility owners, managers and
utility regulators that the benefits are worth pursuing now.
“In the last year or two, software controls started to catch
up, technology-wise, but really the technology has outpaced the
business plans,” he said. “Now we have to educate and to figure
out what the best financial models are out there.”
RO SS is a freelance writer and editor who has covered building
and energy technologies for a range of industry publications and
websites for more than 25 years. He specializes in building and
energy technologies, along with electric-utility business issues.
Contact him at email@example.com.
A Microgrid Grows in Brooklyn
Aunique microgrid under development in Brooklyn, N. Y., is designed to allow owners of rooftop hotovoltaic (PV) panels to sell the electricity they
generate directly to neighbors. Using a metering system built
on the technology behind the digital currency BitCoin, this
demonstration project could become a model for a whole
new way of distributing and paying for electricity.
Called the Brooklyn Microgrid, the project is the
brainchild of Brooklyn-based startup, LO3 Energy, and is
focused on the intersection of the Park Slope, Gowanus and
Boerum Hill neighborhoods.
The distribution network in this area currently faces
capacity constraints that could require expensive new
infrastructure to address, according to LO3 operations
manager Scott Kessler. This project, developed in
cooperation with local utility ConEdison, seeks to address
those constraints through a combination of rooftop PV
panels participating residents have already installed, along
with some new energy storage.
The real innovation, however, is that participants will be
able to directly trade energy between themselves. A proof-of-concept effort launched in April in a single block within
the district proved this idea’s viability. Secondary meters
installed adjacent to participants’ utility meters enabled
these one-to-one transactions using BlockChain technology,
which offers a means for tracking transactions without need
for a third-party intermediary.
“It’s a distributed ledger among all the participants in the
network,” Kessler said. Currently, such financial records are
maintained by ConEdison, which does a monthly accounting
of kilowatt-hours produced by a customer’s rooftop PV
panels and k W-hours consumed onsite. BlockChain enables
real-time recordkeeping in extremely small increments in a
secure fashion—though Kessler said such technical details
aren’t what makes participants enthusiatic.
“The exciting thing is, it allows neighbors to sell energy to
each other,” he said. —C.R.