Microgrid Powers Circuit Breaker Manufacturing Plant in Puerto Rico

Oct. 12, 2021
A new microgrid project is underway for a Puerto Rico manufacturer that is designed to ensure business continuity and boost the renewable energy contribution to the grid during peak demand periods.

A new microgrid project is underway for a Puerto Rico circuit breaker manufacturing plant that is designed to ensure business continuity and boost the renewable energy contribution to the grid during peak demand periods.

Power management firm Eaton has partnered with Enel X to develop the solar plus energy storage project at its Las Piedras facility, which is used to manufacture residential circuit breakers.

Electrical lines in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Photo by RaiPhoto/Shutterstock.com

The microgrid will include nearly 5 MW of solar PV and around 1.1 MW/2.2 MWh of battery storage, which will be integrated into the facility’s existing on-site power generation equipment.

Designed to withstand Category 5 hurricanes, the installation will increase energy resilience at the plant, boost renewable energy use and allow the company to support the local grid by discharging energy back to the grid, offsetting fossil-fuel generation during peak demand periods.

Under the terms of the partnership for Las Piedras, Enel X will finance, build, own and operate the system as an energy-as-a-service model on behalf of Eaton. This approach moves the cost of the project to an operational expenditure rather than a capital cost. Eaton will provide installation expertise and key technologies for the microgrid system, including the microgrid controller and electrical distribution equipment.

Climate change spurs microgrid demand

“As extreme weather caused by the climate crisis becomes the new normal, commercial and industrial businesses need to adopt an integrated energy strategy and solutions that are both resilient and sustainable,” said Surya Panditi, head of Enel X North America, in a statement.

“The increasing frequency and impact of climate emergencies underscore the need for far more sustainable and resilient power. Around the world, we’re applying our ‘everything as a grid’ approach to strengthen operations with low-carbon energy sources and the ability to withstand extreme weather emergencies,” said Brian Brickhouse, president of Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Americas region.

He added that Eaton and Enel X are evaluating additional opportunities in the region to provide microgrid as a service (also known as energy as a service).

Microgrid developments are also becoming increasingly attractive even beyond the immediate region as businesses focus on challenges to operational continuity. “Resiliency is one of the key factors for microgrid developments. What we have seen is that in many places the normal assumptions we’ve made with regard to power reliability have been challenged. There have been outages in Texas and California, for example, and so even in mainland North America these solutions are coming into play,” Craig Gob, vice president and general manager of Eaton’s Electrical Engineering Services and Systems division, explained to Microgrid Knowledge.

Partnership’s second microgrid in Puerto Rico

Las Piedras is the second microgrid project in Puerto Rico to be developed by Eaton and Enel X. The first, at Eaton’s Arecibo plant, was announced in December last year and also features 5 MW of solar PV and 1.1 MW/2.2 MWh of battery storage. Again, Enel X will finance, build, own and operate the system on behalf of Eaton and use Eaton controllers and distribution equipment. The Arecibo plant manufactures circuit breakers used in homes, buildings and a range of industrial applications. Together,  the two microgrids will enable Eaton to reduce emissions by 8,345 tonnes in their first year of operations.

“Although every microgrid is different, our thinking has been around useful building blocks and working with partners to assess how we use different energy assets. It is somewhat modular, but the use case is the same — resilience, sustainability, efficiency and cost savings are the driving factors. Shifting from a capital cost to an operational expense is also really important to a lot of the organizations that are considering the use of these microgrid systems,” Gob added.

The microgrid developments by Eaton and Enel X come in the wake of the latest integrated resource plan (IRP), which was produced by the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau, an energy regulator, in 2020. The IRP includes a mandate for further development of microgrids and renewable energy with targets of at least 3,500 MW of solar and more than 1,300 MW of storage by 2025.

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About the Author

David Appleyard

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