Three big microgrid reveals from 2021 to consider

Dec. 14, 2021
Surprise! This is not an article about wildfires, storms and other grid calamities that drove the microgrid market in 2021. They did. But you already know that. So let’s talk about the less obvious but intriguing microgrid trends and revelations for this year.

Surprise! This is not an article about wildfires, storms and other grid calamities that drove the microgrid market in 2021. They did. But you already know that. So let’s talk about the less obvious but intriguing microgrid trends and indicators the year revealed.

By SmekiNata/Shutterstock.com

1

“You cannot do zero carbon without microgrids.”

Yokogawa Electric may not be a company you immediately associate with microgrids, and that’s one of the reasons its acquisition of California-based PXiSE Energy Solutions is thought-provoking.

An international conglomerate based in Tokyo, Yokogawa is an engineering and software company that does a lot of work in big energy — oil, gas and power plants — as well as pharmaceuticals, materials, chemicals and food. The company announced its acquisition of PXiSE from Sempra Energy and Mitsu on Dec. 1. 

With the purchase, Yokogawa is now making microgrids one of its key initiatives, according to an investor presentation.

In a conversation with Microgrid Knowledge, Patrick Lee, PXiSE CEO, listed several business synergies between PXiSE and Yokogawa that show why the acquisition makes sense. But most interesting was Lee’s description of the “hidden message” the deal reveals about microgrids.

Lee said it all comes down to the ultimate reason for creating the PXiSE microgrid platform, which was the realization that to achieve zero carbon electricity, it’s necessary to solve the renewable integration challenge. That is, how do you quickly shift to other resources when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining? Microgrids can fill this role, particularly when they employ sophisticated forecasting and high speed control platforms and software, which is what PXiSE developed.

“Ultimately, we’re enabling faster adoption of renewables toward zero carbon or toward 100% renewable,” Lee said.

Yokogawa, which has a 2021-2030 plan to accelerate the clean energy transformation, came to a similar realization about the need to solve the renewable intermittency problem. 

“That alignment really is one of the key reasons that they’re interested in PXiSE — beyond just technology and market synergies,” Lee said. 

Achieving zero carbon is not the value proposition the world usually associates with microgrids. Resilience and reliability are. Yet, as Lee pointed out, most microgrids spend only a small portion of their time keeping the lights on because of a power outage. Microgrids are usually connected to the grid and capable of providing it with services, such as balancing renewable energy.

In Lee’s view, microgrids are an essential building block for a 100% renewable grid.

“I can almost guarantee you, you cannot do zero carbon without microgrids,” Lee said. “It’s really not even a choice.”

Interested in diving more into the topic of microgrids and carbon reduction? That’s the main theme of Microgrid 2022: Microgrids as Climate Heroes. Tickets are now available.

2. 

Social distance from the grid?

A strong case exists for microgrids to connect to the grid — the microgrid and grid can engage in a symbiotic relationship. Each can gain financial and operational strength and the world gets cleaner power. But sometimes a grid connection isn’t possible because the microgrid is built to serve a remote region or island where there is no grid. 

Other times, however, a grid connection is possible but not worth the hassle, at least initially. At Microgrid California, we learned that some microgrid owners are choosing to operate independently of the grid because it takes too much time to win interconnection approvals from the utility. In places such as wildfire-prone California, businesses want to get their microgrids built now rather than later.

To learn more about this phenomenon, we invite you to watch two panel discussions from Microgrid California.

Microgrids for Agriculture/Food Industry 

California produces over one-third of US vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. So anything that gets in the way of its ability to grow, harvest, produce and distribute food creates repercussions far beyond its borders — making reliable energy paramount for agriculture. This panel offers examples of successful microgrids used in the food industry and looks at how to make it easier for agriculture to adopt them more widely.

Moderated by A.J. Perkins, president of Instant ON, and the panelists are:

  • Brian Brogan, sales director, GreenStruxure.
  • John Larrea, director, governmental affairs, California League of Food Producers.
  • Rob Fox, vice president of  business development, Endurant Energy.
  • Ari Kashani, CEO and founder, Bluehouse Greenhouse.
  • Brian Curtis, CEO, Concentric Power.
  • Dennis Donohue, director, Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology.

Interactive Leadership Session

Keying in on discussions of the day, panelists and audience members discuss takeaways and questions from Microgrid California.

Moderated by Ken Horne, director of portfolio operations at Spring Lane Capital and panelists included:

  • Eric Dupont, chief commercial officer, PowerSecure.
  • Scott Manson, technology director, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories.
  • Erik Svanholm, vice president, non-wires alternatives, S&C Electric.
  • Elisa Wood, editor-in-chief, Microgrid Knowledge.

Sometimes microgrid owners want to remain off-grid for financial reasons. Such is the case for a microgrid at a New York City hotel. The story isn’t from 2021, but still worth revisiting if you’re exploring the idea of operating your microgrid independently even where a robust grid exists.

3.

Are microgrids and EVs becoming besties?

Microgrid insiders have been pointing to electrification as an up-and-coming driver for microgrid development. And indeed this year we saw their assertion increasingly realized.

What’s clear is that the electrification/microgrid combination is getting the juices flowing among innovators, who are coming up with creative pairings for the two technologies. Their efforts are far more ambitious and creative than the mere inclusion of a few chargers within a microgrid.

One example is the recently announced product by Australian company Tritium. Called PKM150, the fast charger includes a direct current (DC) microgrid, which the company says is unique to its architecture. It transmits power across the system at 950 volts DC rather than 400 volts alternating current. The design reduces the linear dimension of cabling by half. Tritium said this can lead to tens of thousands of dollars in savings for small charging sites and hundreds of thousands of dollars for large charging sites.

Also interesting, the PKM150 system is built in a modular fashion, as described in an article by Microgrid Knowledge’s Lisa Cohn. Customers can choose 50 kW, 100 kW or 150 kW of station power to meet their business needs. The modular construction of these chargers makes them faster and easier to service and build compared to non-modular systems, according to Tritium. 

EVs as microgrids

In White Plains, New York, a school district is using electric school buses as a kind of mobile microgrid. The five-bus EV fleet provided by Lion Electric last year began providing power to local utility Con Edison, which was the first time in the state that buses fed power into a utility grid.

The buses charge and discharge at a depot in North White Plains. They plug into a charger when demand for power from Con Edison is low and reverse the flow into the grid when the buses aren’t taking kids to and from school. 

A new partnership between electric mobility company Revel, clean energy developer NineDot Energy and vehicle-to-grid company Fermata Energy wants to take the mobile microgrid idea to new levels with a pilot program in Brooklyn, New York. Three Nissan Leaf EVs will provide power to Con Edison. Revel has a long-term goal of using its fleet of electric ride-sharing vehicles — all Tesla EVs — to support the grid in New York City and elsewhere, said Paul Suhey, co-founder of Revel. 

Earlier this year, Proterra delivered its 25th ZX5 battery-electric transit bus to LADOT in support of the agency’s transition to a fully electric fleet. Photo courtesy of Proterra

Fleets plus microgrids

We’re all beginning to see the emergence of more businesses and institutions choosing to power their EV fleets with microgrids, a phenomenon likely to accelerate, especially among operations situated in urban areas that are electrically congested or remote areas with insufficient transmission. 

The Santa Clara, California, Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) plans to build a microgrid with charging infrastructure to upgrade and fuel its fleet of battery-powered electric buses. As Lyn Corum reported for Microgrid Knowledge, the Northern California project is part of the VTA’s effort to transform its fleet to 100% zero emissions by 2036 — before a state requirement takes effect for all public transit agencies to transition to 100% zero emissions by 2040. 

VTA formed a partnership with Scale Microgrid Solutions, Proterra and Schneider Electric to build a 1.5-MW solar energy system at its 10-acre Cerone Yard with a 1-MW/4-MWh stationary battery energy storage system. 

Meanwhile, Montgomery County, Maryland, plans to construct a 5.6-MW microgrid with distributed energy generation, energy storage and over 2 MW of charging capacity at its Brookville Smart Energy Bus Depot outside of Washington, D.C.

Microgrid Knowledge writer Sharon Bennett reported that AlphaStruxure, a joint venture between Schneider Electric and the Carlyle Group, will design, build and deliver the project, using an energy-as-a-service model that doesn’t require the county to make upfront payments. 

AlphaStruxure will implement a strategy to transition the on-site gas generation to carbon-neutral sources after operation begins, allowing the microgrid to run on 100% renewable energy in alignment with the county’s goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2035. 

To learn more about microgrids and EVs, check out Microgrid Knowledge’s electric vehicle channel

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

Twitter: @ElisaWood

LinkedIn: Elisa Wood

Facebook:  Microgrids

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