Microgrids are everywhere – and they’re incredibly accessible

As organizations move towards net-zero carbon initiatives, microgrids have become a driving force in the global sustainability trajectory due to their widespread application across industries. Jana Gerber, president of microgrids for North America at Schneider Electric, explains.

Microgrids

Jana Gerber, North American President of Schneider Electric Microgrids

The need for advanced electrical storage and distributed energy resources to complement the expansion of an industry’s energy and productive output, particularly from renewable resources, has grown rapidly in recent years. In fact, electricity demand is expected to triple by 2050, with renewable energy generation responsible for 80-90% of this electricity. To facilitate the anticipated demand for this transition in energy distribution and generation, advanced cloud-based controls centralized in an integrated microgrid are needed to move forward.

A microgrid is an autonomous power grid that allows organizations to generate their own electricity on site. Microgrids connect distributed energy resources in their system and can operate when connected to the power grid or in disconnected “island” mode, using software controls and battery energy storage system technology to distribute and efficiently regulate energy resources when and where they are most needed. Although this technology may seem advanced and daunting, microgrids are incredibly accessible and can provide the electrical infrastructure to power many different industries and meet everyday energy needs such as commercial real estate, residential communities, government facilities , schools, bus depots and much more.

Microgrids in the real world – how it all works

Facilities often seek sustainability, and microgrids meet this need while providing resilient and reliable power sources. The widespread adoption of microgrids has led this technology to become a mainstay of power distribution strategies for organizations looking to improve both sustainability and operational resilience while managing cost and efficiency.

Microgrids are incredibly versatile and their application improves the operation of any installation benefiting from more powerful electrical controls and integrated energy management. Below are some concrete examples that illustrate the impact of microgrids on almost every facet of our daily lives through digital transformation and energy management.

1. Government and public facilities

The Port of Long Beach in California is the second busiest port in the United States, handling up to $914 billion in cargo annually, and it uses a microgrid, which includes an array of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels ) of 300 kW and a network of 250 kW. stationary battery energy storage system to reduce reliance on diesel generators and electricity costs. The installation of PV systems makes it possible to produce energy, Microgrid expansion batteries support energy storage, and cloud-connected controls enable demand response, peak shaving and operational optimization, while islanded – or disconnected – operations – improve energy resilience. With advanced microgrid controls, the port will not only improve resilience and increase the safety and security of its critical infrastructure, but the project will also advance the goal of achieving zero-emissions operations.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, the Montgomery County Public Safety Headquarters (PSHQ) installed a PEER-certified microgrid from Schneider Electric and Duke Energy Renewables, receiving infrastructure upgrades and generation of clean energy via renewable solar energy and natural gas generators, all managed on-site. Largest PSHQ in the county, with advanced microgrid, has the ability to meet 100% of its energy consumption from its current on-site solar generation, natural gas generator and combined heat system and electricity. In addition, 100% of the PSHQ heating and cooling load is met by the district energy system. Through this, PSHQ uses its infrastructure equipment to achieve overall annual energy savings of 12 million units, with cost savings of $486,000 per year. Progress in sustainability has also been remarkable, with a measured reduction of 11,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year.

At the Fox Cities Environmental Learning Center at Bubolz Nature Preserve, a new state-of-the-art, energy-efficient microgrid has been installed for the nature center. The microgrid provides energy and resilience to the learning lab, powering the 18,000 square foot lodge with a microgrid that deploys solar photovoltaic panels, energy storage, fuel cell, a microturbine and a natural gas generator to provide constant and reliable energy conditions for the daily life of the laboratory. operations. The learning center has made significant progress towards zero carbon emissions and achieves 50% lifetime energy savings, meaning it will supply electricity while simultaneously consuming net zero energy. The Bubolz microgrid benefits the reserve and the microgrid industry at large as one of the most advanced microgrids in existence, acting as a test site for microgrid operations increasingly sophisticated.

2. Agricultural and food production facilities

Microgrids also provide resilient, cost-effective electrification and power for electricity-intensive food production facilities such as vertical farms and manufacturing plants, reducing carbon emissions and providing sustainable renewable energy in the process.

Fifth Season, a vertical indoor farming company, uses Schneider Electric’s comprehensive microgrid hardware and software to power its entire indoor farming infrastructure, effectively reducing water consumption by 95% and eliminated carbon production from the farm, making the operation net zero. The microgrid leverages battery storage, switchgear and advanced system control technology to provide sustainable and dynamic energy management at Fifth Season’s integrated, self-contained vertical farm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania . With microgrid in use, Fifth Season is able to streamline the operator experience and increase performance using powerful integrated grid controls and power management solutions that reduce costs and provide energy efficiency for maximum resiliency.

Similarly, Bimbo Bakeries USA installed GreenStruxure microgrids and complete hybrid systems at its six California sites. Planned to reduce carbon emissions by 25% and help achieve its goal of net-zero operations by 2050, the organization uses GreenStruxure’s energy-as-a-service (EaaS) model for financing, backup generator installation and configurations. In this model, the organization avoids upfront costs and will only have to pay for the energy it uses while GreenStruxture installs, maintains and operates the microgrids for it.

3. Military and transportation facilities

Many cities and states are moving forward with their sustainability goals through the use of distributed energy resources. In Maryland, Montgomery County has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2035. As part of a joint venture with The Carlyle Group, Schneider Electric has deployed a first-of-its-kind project to accelerate the county’s transition to electric buses and installed a state-of-the-art microgrid to advance and sustainably power Montgomery County’s EV bus infrastructure. The project’s installation plans included custom EaaS solutions to accelerate its sustainability, resiliency, energy cost management and electrification priorities, with 100% of its generated green power generated using a public security micro-grid. The project, when deploying the advanced microgrid, avoided a $4 million capital repair investment through the EaaS model and leverages 100% clean energy to power all county facilities and its more than 1,000 vehicles electrical.

At Marine Corps Air Station Miramar (MCAS) in San Diego, Calif., a microgrid system has kept more than 100 critical facilities running and provided power to more than 2,000 homes amid from a power outage in August 2020. In addition to the reliability of the microgrid during an energy crisis, the microgrid uses 75% renewable energy for the base and local utilities. The microgrid is also capable of operating in “island mode”. Most notably, MCAS Miramar was prepared for the August 2020 blackout by successfully conducting a comprehensive Energy Resilience Readiness Exercise assessment, finding that the microgrid can meet all energy needs for critical support and flight line operations.

Conclusion

While microgrids have traditionally been used in industries where grid reliability is regularly challenged by extreme weather conditions or aging infrastructure, the opportunity is ripe for any industry or sector looking to improve operational efficiency. while reducing its carbon footprint.

The microgrid market is clearly a growing market. Microgrids are extremely modular and can be outfitted to meet the energy or operational needs of your facility of choice.

Whether the focus is on transportation, infrastructure, military facilities, learning labs, agricultural facilities or more, microgrids are among the most efficient and versatile electrical infrastructure capable of powering public and private facilities without the need for a network. The next step in the evolution of stand-alone renewable energy storage is the adoption of this technology, and microgrids are paving the way to make these benefits more accessible and achievable than ever before.

Jana Gerber is President of Microgrids for North America at Schneider Electric.

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