The connection between food, energy, war and microgrids

March 30, 2022
Food and energy are two closely linked commodities as recent price spikes make the world painfully aware.  Food businesses can’t do much about the war in Ukraine or the global fossil fuel market, but they can manage their electricity prices to help offset some of the damage.

Food and energy are two closely linked commodities as recent price spikes make the world painfully aware. 

In February, food made its highest 12-month price jump in 40 years. Meanwhile, energy prices rose more than any other commodity last year — before the Ukraine war — and continued to go up in 2022. 

The war is prohibiting Ukraine, the world’s breadbasket, from producing and exporting wheat and other agricultural products. That’s one reason food prices are rising. 

Another is the high oil prices. The food industry relies on fossil fuels for processing,transportation and fertilizers, of which Russia is a world export leader. One study found that oil causes 64.17% of food price variance.

But electricity prices, too, play a role in food costs. The US food system uses more electricity than any other energy source. In fact, electricity represents 58% of the energy used in the food chain.

Food and agricultural businesses can’t do much about the war in Ukraine or the global fossil fuel market, but they can manage their electricity prices to help offset some of the damage.

Microgrids are one way to do this. A range of food businesses are already operating or developing microgrids. Here are some examples of projects:

Whole Foods redefined the idea of the grocery store, giving it a new mission as a community haven during a prolonged power outage. The store becomes a place to not only buy food but also charge cell phones and make much-needed human connection when a catastrophe upends lives. To that end, Whole Foods installed a flagship microgrid with solar, wind, and combined heat and power at a store in Brooklyn, New York. If everything else in the neighborhood goes dark, the Brooklyn store will stay alight and open.

Endurant Energy jumped into the controlled environment agriculture (CEA) sector with a roughly $30 million microgrid project for Bluehouse Greenhouse, a company building a high-tech 62-acre greenhouse in Southern California. Endurant (formerly GI Energy) will own, operate and maintain the 13.2-MW microgrid using an energy-as-a-service (EaaS) model. The project is Bluehouse’s first greenhouse. The company is also scouting sites in the Southwest and Northeast with a goal of starting work on three more greenhouses in the next three years, according to Shane Holland, a company spokesman.

The project features AZZO’s automated spot market bidding system that allows the produce market to gain revenue by buying and selling energy to the grid based on real-time pricing in the National Electricity Market.

Join us at Microgrid 2022: Microgrids as Climate Heroes for a special session “From Microgrid to Farm to Table: New Energy Strategies in Agriculture,” on June 1 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Scale Microgrid Solutions brought a 1.75-MW microgrid online for a major indoor farm near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Scale Microgrid’s modular microgrid for Fifth Season, a startup indoor farming company, uses 160 kW of photovoltaic solar panels, 200 kW of lithium ion batteries and a 1,200-kW natural gas generator outfitted with advanced emissions control technology.

Powering an anaerobic digester project with a renewable microgrid has transformed the economics of biogas at a newly commissioned plant in Wisconsin. The facility is turning organic waste from more than 4,000 dairy cows into renewable natural gas and injecting it into a natural gas pipeline for use as a transportation fuel in California.

Concentric Power is building a 5-MW microgrid for Tasteful Selections, a Southern California company that grows and packages potatoes. The $12 million project combines 3.6 MW of cogeneration firm power with 120 KW of solar and a 1.25-MW/625-kWh lithium-ion battery setup. Concentric Power’s microgrid controller will integrate with Tasteful Selections’ equipment automation platform to deliver active and predictive load management.

Bimbo Bakeries USA, the maker of such products as Thomas’ English muffins, Arnold bread, and Sara Lee and Entenmann’s pastries, plans to install microgrids at six manufacturing facilities over the next year with the help of GreenStruxure, a subsidiary of Schneider Electric.

Stop & Shop, a major retail chain in the US Northeast, announced today that it will install microgrids in 40 of its grocery stores in Massachusetts and New York. The microgrids will use Bloom Energy fuel cells. The combined electric capacity of the 40 microgrids is 10 MW. The microgrids, which run 24/7, will ensure that power flows to the stores even if the electric grid is experiencing an outage. Hurricanes in the Northeast at times have knocked out power for as long as two weeks. Grocery stores become critical for communities during such natural disasters.

The project will include a solar array and a natural gas generator with advanced emissions controls to help Fifth Season reach its goals of growing 500,000 pounds of lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula and herbs in its first year at its first commercial farm.

The 16-acre Stone Edge farm describes itself as a “demonstration farm for what is possible,” at the cutting edge of soil, water, air and energy conservation. Cover crops and extensive composting ensure soil and plant health, and monitoring technologies have cut water use in half. But Stone Edge says its most dramatic results in air and energy conservation have come from the Stone Edge Farm MicroGrid (SEFMG).

Butler Farms recently doubled down on its efforts to not only cut down on odors and eliminate rainwater challenges, but also capture biogas to utilize as a renewable energy resource as caught on file in a recent report that outlines the unique N.C. hog farm microgrid.

The California Energy Commission has awarded Frito-Lay a $3.5 million grant to build a solar-powered microgrid at a food processing facility in a project the agency is touting as a model for the industry. The microgrid will be installed at a snack food processing facility in Rancho-Cucamonga, California, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep the plant running during power outages.

A Victorian solar and storage microgrid project geared at helping Australian farmers to tackle energy-related “pain points,” including rising power prices and unreliable supply, has won state government backing. The microgrid, including 51 kW of solar and 137 kWh of battery storage capacity, will be developed by energy technology company SwitchDin and commercial microgrid developer Walnut Energy.

H-E-B was fortunate to have the microgrids commissioned before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in August 2017 as the storm knocked out power for 300,000 Texas utility customers. Enchanted Rock uses a 24/7 Network Operations Center to monitor the electric grid, so the company knew when to island H-E-B microgrids from Houston’s main power grid. As Harvey made landfall on the Gulf Coast, the stores began receiving power from the microgrid’s on-site generators. Eighteen H-E-B stores received full-facility backup power for five consecutive days during the storm.

Scale Microgrid Solutions is financing and developing a power system for cannabis cultivation in Jessup, Maryland, near Baltimore. Built for Verano, a national cannabis brand, the installation will incorporate a combined cooling, heat and power system with a 172-kW rooftop solar array and 2 MW of microturbine generators paired with 800-ton absorption chillers for capturing waste heat. 

California’s agricultural industry is showing growing interest in microgrids as the state’s electric grid suffers from wildfire-related power outages. Wineries, in particular, have embraced the technology, most recently Castello di Amorosa, which has incorporated a 556-kWh battery storage microgrid into its 13th-century inspired Tuscan architecture. The microgrid was built by 127 Energy, a renewable energy project development firm, in partnership with Centrica Business Solutions, an integrated energy solutions company, and inverter supplier Sungro.

Chick-fil-A restaurants to install test microgrids ahead of possible national rollout

Ahead of a possible national rollout, SolMicroGrid, an energy-as-a-service microgrid company, is setting up microgrids at three Chick-fil-A restaurants in California. Restaurants in San Diego, Santa Rosa and Stockton will beta-test the SolMicroGrid system designed for 5,000-square-foot buildings, according to the company, which is backed by Morgan Stanley Energy Partners.

You also might want to listen to this webinar: Microgrids for the Food Industry, watch this video discussion from our October 2021 conference Microgrid California: Microgrids for the Agriculture and Food Industries and read this white paper Solving Your Energy Problems Has Never Been Easier for Agriculture and Food Processors.  

Track news about microgrids in the food industry. Subscribe to the free Microgrid Knowledge Newsletter.

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

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