To cut microgrid costs, industry experts offer five strategies: optimize the energy resources to ensure they provide the most benefits, consider cost- and time-saving design tweaks, avoid overengineering, take advantage of standard packages and look into financing that involves no upfront costs.
In addition to optimizing resources, microgrid designers can focus on strategies that lower costs. For example, Lee said that designers should consider changing the microgrid design from seamless islanding to sequence islanding, which can eliminate some power components and opens the opportunity to use lower cost inverters and batteries. It also means that there may be a few seconds of power outage as the microgrid transitions to islanded operations. But that’s the trade-off.
“Seamless islanding requires additional components and control devices and will require inverters with higher performance in islanding switching; these all drive up project costs,” said Lee.
“The control system algorithms need to maximize the benefit for a given set of microgrid resources [i.e., renewables, storage, grid constraints]. With optimal control algorithms, fuel consumption and carbon can be minimized, reliability and resilience can be assured, and maximum peak demand limiting and time-of-use energy shifting can reduce energy bills,” Becker said. If these algorithms are not optimized, the microgrid will not yield the savings or revenues that were possible or expected.
“Though this may be hard to measure, it can dwarf the original cost of the controls,” Becker said.
Predictive analysis and grid modeling
“Intangible advancements have been made through software, the internet of things and artificial intelligence,” said Gonzalez. This allows controllers to “think” and respond to existing conditions, which means that software systems can proactively adjust to a microgrid user’s energy needs, renewable energy output and available fuels. In addition, sensor and data collection and analysis can identify possible errors before they occur and improve uptime, he said. All of this helps reduce costs and maximize benefits.
Often, developers want to design a microgrid to take advantage of all possible revenue streams — resiliency, energy efficiency, decarbonization or a combination of them, he said.
Specifications call for many features that theoretically could be in an energy storage system, for example. The microgrid may not deliver the value streams available in that region today — but theoretically “could” in the future, if utility programs or other incentives become available. These “dormant” features can create a microgrid infrastructure that’s “overqualified” and costs more than anticipated, said DiLiberto.
Another strategy for driving down costs is to take advantage of standardization.
And microgrid controls are becoming more configurable and packaged, which cuts engineering expenses, Wingate said.
“Also, some of the distributed energy resources [solar and battery storage] have become more commoditized. Overall costs are decreasing and installation times have accelerated,” he said.
PXiSE’s Lee added that microgrid developers should consider using pre-integrated battery, inverter and control systems to cut system integration costs. Pre-integrated means equipment is specified and already mapped for data communications and programmed for specific functions, so there’s no need for communications among components.
Reduce microgrid costs through EaaS
Also cutting costs are new business models that are becoming more mature, allowing for financing that involves no upfront costs, said Wingate. Under the energy-as-a-service model (EaaS), for example, third parties can design, build, own and operate the microgrid for the customer in exchange for the customer taking the energy at predictable pricing.
“EaaS also offers resiliency and sustainable energy. This is a transfer of risk, no capital expenditure and generally a lower operating cost than traditional energy procurement,” said Wingate.
If microgrid users and developers take advantage of these strategies, microgrids will become less expensive and better able to reap income, provide resilience, lower costs and cut users’ carbon footprint, the experts said.
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