Emory University Seeks Regulatory Support for Microgrid at its Atlanta Campus

May 13, 2019
Emory University is seeking support from Georgia regulators for a microgrid that would be built on its Atlanta campus.

Emory University is seeking support from Georgia regulators for a microgrid that would be built on its Atlanta campus.

Emory University. Photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock.com

The university is petitioning the Georgia Public Service Commission on the need to perform a feasibility study in collaboration with Georgia Power before seeking final approval for the project, according to Joan Kowal, senior director of energy strategy and utilities at Emory.

Neither the size nor the cost of the microgrid has been determined. The microgrid would initially serve Emory University Hospital and Emory’s Health Sciences Research Buildings, according to a regulatory filing (Docket 42310). Emory is a major research facility that generates more than $734 million in research funding annually.

The Emory microgrid would constitute a combined heat and power (CHP) plant with solar power and battery storage that would be able to provide ratepayers with a generation source at a lower cost than a standalone, natural gas combined-cycle plant or standalone large scale solar project because there would be no transmission or distribution losses, Kowal said in the filing.

The proposed microgrid would also provide revenue from the sale of steam produced by the CHP, and it would provide local grid control and demand response peak shaving during times of high system loads, Kowal said.

Kowal noted that the microgrid would be near critical utility loads and would help support the university’s healthcare center and healthcare research facility during a disaster.

In her testimony, filed as part of Georgia Power’s integrated resource planning (IRP) proceeding, Kowal cited other university installations that were able to benefit the surrounding community during disasters. She described the CHP plant at Louisiana State University that kept running during Hurricane Katrina and the microgrid at Princeton University that continued to operate during Hurricane Sandy, providing emergency staging area for relief workers and local residents.

Emory in discussions with Georgia Power

While the proposed microgrid project is not included in Georgia Power’s current IRP, Kowal noted that the IRP does include provisions for research and development projects and for distributed energy resources.

“Our request is focused on working with GA Power to evaluate having the pilot microgrid connected to their distribution system,” Kowal told Microgrid Knowledge. Emory is willing to participate in the funding of the feasibility study, she added.

Learn about more campus microgrids this week at Microgrid 2019 in San Diego

In the filing, Kowal also noted that while Georgia Power did not specifically ask for resilience enhancements related to high impact events in its IRP, it did recognize the growing need for them and expressed willingness to propose applicable projects for commission consideration.

Emory has been in discussions with Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, regarding the microgrid. The utility has sent several members of its Southern Company research and development team to Emory to review the scope of the project and to collaborate on possible funding paths for moving the microgrid forward as a research project.

As of now, the Emory microgrid project is not in Georgia Power’s IRP and discussions are ongoing, Southern Co. spokeswoman Crystal Mussenden said.

Should the project not go forward with Georgia Power, the university said it may seek other alternatives. Kowal acknowledged in the filing that Emory has discussed options with third party microgrid developers, but described a non-utility solution as “less desirable” that would “eliminate any future expansion of the microgrid to the community and would substantially reduce revenue from Emory to Georgia Power.”

“This lost revenue contributes to Georgia Power’s fixed costs which, if Emory installs its own CHP, would likely be spread to all other customers,” said the university filing.

Another microgrid for Atlanta higher ed

Separately Georgia Power has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Georgia Institute of Technology for a 1.4 MW microgrid that is now poised to move forward on the university’s Atlanta campus.

The project, first proposed last year, comprises fuel cells, battery storage, diesel generators, and a natural gas generator. It will also have the capacity add microturbines, solar panels, and electric vehicle chargers in the future.

The Georgia Tech research project has been approved by the Public Service Commission and will be used to evaluate how a microgrid can integrate into and operate as part of the overall electrical grid. It will also serve as a laboratory for Georgia Tech professors and students to gather data on controllers, cybersecurity devices, and energy economics.

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Peter Maloney

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