Turns out Democrats and Republicans Agree on Something: Microgrids

on April 9, 2020

In an era of bipartisan wrangling, it turns out microgrids are one thing US voters agree upon — at least once they understand them.

That’s the finding of a survey conducted for the Civil Society Institute, a Massachusetts think tank that works to uncover common ground on education, healthcare, water, energy and other issues.

Last year the institute decided to take a deep look at microgrids after its research into renewable energy indicated that microgrids hold strong universal appeal.

Their polling of 1,000 voters in October, and qualitative discussions with 400 voters, upheld the premise. Democrats, Independents and Republicans overwhelmingly liked the microgrid concept — once it was explained to them.

Initially, the majority of all voters (83%) said they had never heard of the concept (56%), or they had heard of it but had the wrong impression (27%).

What voters like about microgrids
But after they were given a definition*, the conversation became animated and the audience wanted to learn more, according to pollster Vince Breglio.

“I was amazed at how much people had to say about a concept they had not understood and only had a short paragraph of explanation about,” said Breglio, advisor to US presidents, senators and governors as well as such corporations as Sony, Toyota and Caterpillar.

So what did they like about microgrid technology?

That’s where ideology did come into play. Democrats tended to see microgrids as a climate solution, as did women, younger voters and Hispanics. Republicans, older voters, and those with higher incomes favored messaging related to protecting electric supply against hacking or terrorism.

The survey also uncovered strong support for community microgrids when they were described as part of grid modernization.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsTurns out Democrats and Republicans Agree on Something: Microgrids

Could COVID-19 Give Rise to the Home Microgrid?

on April 6, 2020

The coronavirus (COVID-19) could alter who needs reliable energy — and when — and place new importance on residential microgrids.

While it’s too soon to gauge energy trends after society emerges from isolatation, short-term indicators may offer clues.

For one, we’re seeing what it means when a significant portion of the US population makes home their workplace.

Before COVID-19, about 5 million people, or 3.6% of the workforce, worked from home, according to Global Workplace Analytics’ analysis of 2018 American Community Service (ACS) data.

Now with as many as 56% of workers operating from home, skeptical employers are forced to test the approach. Kate Lister, president of the analytics firm, believes many will see the advantages and continue the practice.

How many will keep working from home after COVID-19?
“Our prediction is that the longer people are required to work at home, the greater the adoption we will see when the dust settles. We believe, based on historical trends, that those who were working remotely before the pandemic, will increase their frequency after they are allowed to return to their offices,” Lister said.

She estimates that work-at-home employees could grow from 3.6% to 25-30% of the workforce within the next two years.

This could shift the energy landscape meaningfully, given that Lister estimates a home-based worker adds 3,000 kWh per year to household electricity use, a significant uptick. Average annual consumption for a US household is about 11,000 kWh.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsCould COVID-19 Give Rise to the Home Microgrid?

COVID-19 Likely to Spur More Microgrid Development

on April 6, 2020

History tells us that disasters tend to spur new interest in microgrids. This pandemic is no exception as COVID-19 strains hospitals, data centers and food distribution and delivery systems, making power outages unthinkable.

A quote in the Wall Street Journal by Peggy Noonan, being widely circulated on social media, sums up how important electricity is right now:

“There are a million warnings out there on a million serious things. We add one: Everything works — and will continue to work — as long as we have electricity. It’s what keeps the lights on, the oxygen flowing, the information going. Everything is the grid, the grid, the grid.”

Underscoring this idea the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners yesterday urged state authorities to designate utility workers as essential to the nation’s critical infrastructure during the pandemic.

In addition, many utilities and state commissions throughout the US have taken quick action to prohibit power shut offs to customers who are behind on their payments. That takes care of lack of power due to economics, but it’s not so easy to control outages brought by nature. And unfortunately both hurricane season and California’s wildfire season are threatening to collide with the pandemic.

Short and long term prognosis
“Human contact is restricted, there are a lot of people ill, the hospitals are overflowing. The last thing anyone would want to worry about is the availability of power supply,” said Shashank Pande, software solutions architect for utility control center solutions at Siemens Digital Grid. “Microgrids are especially important from the resiliency standpoint in this situation.”

Businesses, institutions, utilities and others install microgrids for varied reasons; some are motivated by economics, others environment. But energy resiliency is the technology’s signature value. Microgrids, which operate 24/7/365, provide electric reliability by islanding from the grid during a power outage and using their own on-site resources to supply power to their customers.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsCOVID-19 Likely to Spur More Microgrid Development

Why Microgrid Projects Start with Energy Monitoring and Energy Efficiency

on March 30, 2020

Why do microgrid projects need to start with energy monitoring and energy efficiency? Jules Nohra, director of optimization services, Veolia North America, explains in an interview with Yasmin Ali, Microgrid Knowledge contributor.

Why is it important to make a facility as energy efficient as possible before you install a microgrid?

Jules Nohra: The first, and probably the most important reason, is to make sure the microgrid is not oversized. Energy efficiency measures reduce a facility’s energy demand, so taking these measures after installing a microgrid would result in it being oversized, meaning that the capital cost was unnecessarily high. The second reason is because energy efficiency is typically a lot cheaper to implement than a microgrid.

Energy efficiency has evolved far beyond efficient light bulbs and HVAC systems. What are some of the key elements and technologies used today?
JN: A key development is using data for the identification of energy efficiency measures. Data science and machine learning allow us to continuously monitor the performance of buildings on a large scale, for a variety of buildings, and helps build a continuous picture versus a one-time snapshot of a facility. Improvements in the data science field also mean that we can do continuous commissioning at scale and a lot more intelligently that we did in the past.

What is “continuous commissioning”?
JN: Let’s start with commissioning. Equipment installed in a new building is usually commissioned, or tested to make sure that it is operating as per the design specification. Unfortunately this process isn’t always perfect. In some cases, issues are missed during commissioning, for example a piece of equipment is left in manual mode for years to come, without anyone noticing. You would have paid a lot of money to install a piece of equipment that essentially doesn’t do anything.

Retro-commissioning is going back to a building that has been operating for a long time and commissioning it. Some places will re-commission every few years, as equipment in buildings tends to drift away from the specification over time.

And finally, continuous commissioning is essentially continuous monitoring of energy performance and equipment in a building to make sure that you’re never drifting away from the original design intent.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsWhy Microgrid Projects Start with Energy Monitoring and Energy Efficiency

Lessons from Microgrids for the COVID-19 Crisis

on March 27, 2020

There are parallels between COVID-19 responses and the management of the electrical grid of the future. Concepts like “flattening the curve” and” self-quarantine” are concepts not only crucial in the current pandemic, but in electricity distribution systems globally.

While we at Introspective Systems practice social distancing, working remotely, and watching record demands asked of hospitals and the infrastructure that support them, we hear something that is oddly familiar, “flattening the curve.” To those who work in the transmission and distribution environment, this concept is integral to the work we do. Our electricity systems infrastructure is determined by and broken by, peak demands of resources. When we move to a greener grid with greatly expanded renewable generation through microgrids and beneficial electrification of transportation, space heating, and industrial loads, our infrastructure will be impacted by peaks. The nation’s response to the COVID-19 crisis is driven by some of the same principals, flattening the curve (demand response) and self-quarantine (microgrids).

Peak electricity demand has been and will remain the silent killer of the electrical grid. Whether your business is a utility, a manufacturing plant, or a school district, peak electricity charges or the infrastructure required to service them are leading factors in your costs.

For this reason, Introspective Systems is focused on managing peak demands and building microgrids along with layered microgrids that “self-quarantine,” or island, during faults. Our flavor (algorithms) of Transactive Energy (TE), is designed to balance the large-scale demands on our system, orchestrating demand to match generation, while at the same time incentivizing production to be responsive to that changing demand. We do this through a balance of supply and demand, where our Economic Dispatch Value (EDV) responds to changes in the state of the system. Then, by combining the network-wide balancing capabilities of the EDV with local intelligence such as AI-enabled heating systems that forecast future grid states to take advantage of lower electricity costs, we can effectively flatten the demand curve.

These economic systems can drive microgrids or distribution grids and can then be layered as required. Much like the response to the pandemic in Hawaii, where its states are isolating or “islanding” by instituting 14-day quarantine to visitors, they protect themselves from further faults or in the case of COVID-19, new infections.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsLessons from Microgrids for the COVID-19 Crisis

Less Risk, More Arbitrage Income for Microgrid Operators and Owners?

on March 26, 2020

Often, microgrid operators have the choice of either purchasing a fixed supply contract or playing in the market, but not both, said James McGinniss, CEO and co-founder, David Energy, a competitive retail electricity supplier.

“Microgrid customers are often faced with a bad choice: They can take an indexed contract in order to capitalize on arbitrage as a value stream, and thus take energy market risk (be exposed to price spikes), or they can take a fixed contract that eliminates risk but also their ability to capitalize on arbitrage,” he said.

His company is now focusing on providing different variations of fixed supply contracts that allow microgrid operators to earn income by participating in the market, especially demand response programs. He expects the offerings to help reduce risk and allow microgrids operators and owners to earn money providing demand response and other services.

David Energy can provide variable or fixed products. “What matters is that we will structure the deal however a customer likes. What we’re offering that is different in the market is a willingness to structure future arbitrage potential into a fixed product. We’ll take the performance risk on an asset in commodity markets. Or, the customers can stay on a variable rate if they want to take that risk, and use our algorithms to manage their assets and achieve further savings.”

The business model is based on software as a service, providing demand side management, demand response and other options and being paid for it.

How the model works
David Energy provides a package, called Micor, that includes technology-agnostic software that allows for the control of numerous assets while participating in the market.

“When you have solar, a battery and backup generator, you have to find a software company to do demand charge management with the battery,” he said. David Energy generally controls the assets for the customer, but sometimes customers control the assets, if for example they want to be in charge of temperatures in buildings. In that case, David Energy sends real time recommendations to the customer through its dashboard.

Many microgrid projects involve developers and customers pulling together a demand response provider, software for the battery and a retailer for energy supply. His goal is to provide an all-in-one service.

“We’re an energy retailer and we have our own software controls,” he said. “We can step in and provide a fixed supply contract that takes into account the arbitrage potential of a battery.”

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsLess Risk, More Arbitrage Income for Microgrid Operators and Owners?

Getting California’s Microgrids Interconnected Is Even More Important Now

on March 26, 2020

California began a policy focus on microgrids earlier this year, as a possible mitigation for the expected wildfires and perhaps even more severe power shutdowns this coming fire season. The idea is that microgrids – basically generating needed power onsite and being able to operate even if the larger grid goes down – can help keep the lights and essential power on for homes, businesses and key facilities like hospitals and other medical facilities, as well as government buildings or any business that feels that it is important to have power even when the grid is down.

The new proceeding at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), R.19-09-009, has a number of tracks focused on different policy issues. Track 1 is near-term, dealing with possible solutions that can be implemented this year in time to help reduce the severity of the upcoming power shutdown events this summer.

The Commission has made it clear that this proceeding is a very high priority and if they are able to get some solutions in place by this summer, it may well set a record for fast action by the Commission.

I’ve taken part in this new proceeding on behalf of my client, the non-profit Green Power Institute (a unit of the Pacific Institute). We and many other parties have suggested that a focus on interconnection problems facing microgrids will yield the most bang for the buck. In a workshop at the PUC earlier this year every party spoke out about the lengthy and expensive interconnection process facing microgrids and other renewable energy facilities.

A promising solution that seems to have a lot of support among involved parties and policymakers is standardized, single-line, diagrams for the most common microgrid configurations of solar plus battery storage. Having standardized diagrams should allow for much faster processing of interconnection applications that use these diagrams – but only if the processing timelines are mandatorily shortened for those projects. Otherwise, the utilities will just process them more quickly internally but still use the allotted time allowed by the Rule 21 interconnection tariff.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsGetting California’s Microgrids Interconnected Is Even More Important Now

Snowstorms, Remote Locale, and Practical Jokes Can’t Stop Alaskan Microgrid

on March 20, 2020

A sudden snowstorm in a far Northwest arctic locale, sleeping in a laundromat (for no better place) and practical jokes were only some of the challenges facing Grass Valley, Calif.-based BoxPower in deploying a new solar/storage microgrid in the indigenous village of Deering in remote Northwest Alaska.

The installation is the second microgrid for the company in Alaska and second involving NANA, a regional corporation made up of 14,500 Iñupiat shareholders, or descendants, who live in or have roots in the region. The Iñupiat are people with close ties to the land and to each other, according to its website, and the word “Iñupiat” means “real people,” in its language.

Deering residents number 160 people that have seen their hunting patterns altered by climate change and had been burning about 46,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year to power their homes and other structures and facilities. They also face extremely high costs for food, electricity and freight, as well as low levels of employment.

The three solar/storage units installed by BoxPower are 16 kW each, for a total capacity of 48 kW being fed into the main grid, offsetting diesel generation, and enabling diesel generators to turn off during sunny and windy conditions. Wind turbines were previously installed in 2015.

The new installation had difficult supply chain logistics due to the remote location, but a breakthrough method of anchoring the systems to the ground led to big savings, according to Boxpower CEO Angelo Campus.

Cutting microgrid costs by near half
“We learned that logistics and supply chain are the most difficult part of Alaskan microgrids,” Campus said in a phone interview. He detailed lessons learned since the company’s first installation in Buckland, Alaska, another northwestern arctic city, in 2018. One of these was that a significant portion of the cost and construction time at Buckland came from building the foundation for the units.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsSnowstorms, Remote Locale, and Practical Jokes Can’t Stop Alaskan Microgrid

Research RFP for Lead Battery Use in Energy Storage, Microgrids

on March 18, 2020

The Consortium for Battery Innovation has issued a request for research proposals looking at how lead batteries can be used for energy storage for various applications, including microgrids.

“As a newer application for lead batteries, research into field and laboratory tests for energy storage systems is essential to gain deeper insights into understanding total energy throughput and increasing service life and performance,” the research organization said March 16.

The planned research comes as batteries are increasingly being used to help integrate renewable energy onto the power system and to facilitate microgrids.

Lead batteries are used in energy storage systems to provide frequency regulation, microgrids, peak shaving and load shifting, the consortium said in the RFP.

However, more research is needed into the use of lead batteries for energy storage, according to the group, which has offices in Durham, North Carolina, and London.

The group intends to fund research on increasing the life of lead batteries and the total energy throughput in energy storage systems that use flooded, valve-regulated lead-acid/absorptive glass mat, gel, and enhanced flooded batteries, bipolar type, and other advanced lead batteries, the group said in the RFP.

The consortium will give special consideration to research into renewable energy arbitrage using microgrids, peak-power shaving using battery storage for commercial and industrial applications, and load following uses, according to the RFP.

Proposals are due by April 24. The consortium will enter into research contracts with the successful bidders

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsResearch RFP for Lead Battery Use in Energy Storage, Microgrids

Why Microgrids Make Sense for Hotels

on March 17, 2020

Why are microgrids a good energy solution for hotels? Mike Byrnes, senior vice president Veolia North America, explains in an interview with Yasmin Ali, Microgrid Knowledge con

What kind of hotels are good candidates for microgrids?

Mike Byrnes: Generally, the larger the better, as the capital costs go up significantly per unit when you get smaller. The hotel needs a good mix of thermal and electric demand. And if you’re going to use a combined heat power (CHP) based microgrid, which would generate electricity and heating, you’ll need large amounts of hot water and heat demand. Large cooling demands for things like air conditioning work well too. These can be met with tri-generation systems that provide a combination of electricity, heating and cooling.

Some smaller hotels tend to have individual room air conditioners and heating units; those don’t lend themselves well to a full combined heat and power system, as this needs central infrastructure. Converting from individual heating or cooling units to a central generation system can be very expensive.

If a hotel doesn’t have a large heating demand, a microgrid utilizing solar PV plus storage may be more appropriate. It could help manage electricity costs and increase resiliency.

What type of benefits do hotels generally look for from a microgrid?
MB: Hotels are always looking for the money savings and an appropriate payback. That’s top of the list for everyone. They like the green and sustainability benefits, but a microgrid is generally so capital intensive that it has to pay for itself.

Are there generation sources that are best suited for hotels?
MB: Yes, it depends on the size. In the past we have used small and large reciprocating engines, gas turbines and tri-generation units if the hotel is big enough. Big enough means it’s got to be a major hotel with a conference center, ballrooms, outbuildings and things like that.

The McCormick Place in Chicago had a major CHP plant, thermal storage, chilled water storage, and 24/7 staff. But McCormick Place is one of the four largest convention centers and hotel complexes in the country so they could afford it. Most medium or large hotels will default to reciprocating engines, usually 1 to 3 MW in capacity. These can run unmanned; you don’t need full time 24/7 staff on them.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsWhy Microgrids Make Sense for Hotels