How Campus Microgrids Balance Competing Objectives

April 12, 2023
More than just a means to reduce carbon, a microgrid also provides resiliency in an era that’s seeing more frequent grid outages.

 One of the biggest energy trends in higher education today is the need to balance three often competing goals, according to Matthew Hamilton, national business development manager of education markets at Siemens Smart Infrastructure US.

As a lead up to Microgrid 2023, Hamilton and his colleague Carlos Vargas, head of grid edge sales at Siemens Grid Software US, sat down with Microgrid Knowledge’s Elisa Wood to discuss campus microgrid trends.

Balancing competing objectives

Hamilton and Vargas explained that today’s colleges and universities are looking for solutions that will lower their energy costs, provide resilience and reduce carbon emissions.

Achieving these three objectives is challenging, but they said that modern microgrids are the perfect solution because the technology allows you to balance the competing goals in the best possible way.

Hamilton explained that microgrids allow universities to optimize the dispatch of reliable, clean energy supplies as well as build accurate and integrated forecasts across both load and generation.

“US institutions are demonstrating leadership in this space, showcasing the technological tools that are available to tackle carbon reduction,” Hamilton said. 

But more than just a means to reduce carbon, a microgrid also provides resiliency in an era that’s seeing more frequent grid outages.

The pair noted that extended power outages have significant financial ramifications for universities, which drives the need for resiliency.

“Universities have huge R&D budgets,” Hamilton said. He added that “much of that research and development is heavily dependent on reliable electricity supply. A multi hour outage at the university can destroy research that’s been years in the making, with millions of dollars invested.”

In the interview, Hamilton also explained that a microgrid can be used to reduce a university’s energy costs, as well as provide opportunities for new revenue streams.

Microgrid software is key

According to Vargas, simulation tools are helpful to those new to the microgrid world because they allow you to decide beforehand what the best mix of generation resources will be for your microgrid, based on your goals.

And then, once it’s in place, software and controls allow you to program the microgrid to achieve your goals in the best possible way, whether they are reliability, sustainability, costs – or all three.  

Campus microgrids become living laboratories

Hamilton added, “One really exciting element for universities with microgrids is the capacity to integrate living laboratory components and actually treat the microgrid assets themselves as a core part of the educational curriculum.”

He cited examples at Sante Fe Community College in New Mexico, and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Bronzeville, Chicago.

Vargas also offered Siemens’ US technology headquarters in Princeton, N.J., as an example of a living laboratory. Siemens recently expanded its microgrid demonstration capabilities with the launch of an interactive virtual environment that allows customers and partners to tour the microgrid from anywhere in the world. 

Learn more about campus microgrids at Microgrid 2023: Lights On!, which will be held May 16-17 in Anaheim, California. Siemens will participate in a panel called The Future of Utility Microgrids.

About the Author

Kathy Hitchens | Special Projects Editor

I work as a writer and special projects editor for Microgrid Knowledge. I have over 30 years of writing experience, working with a variety of companies in the renewable energy, electric vehicle and utility sector, as well as those in the entertainment, education, and financial industries. I have a BFA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona and a MBA from the University of Denver.

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