Educating customers about 3 key microgrid benefits

June 2, 2021
What microgrid benefits incentivize customers to adopt the technology?  The ability to decarbonize, achieve resiliency and lower costs top the list, according to Alex Savelli, executive director of power generation at Cummins.
What microgrid benefits incentivize customers to adopt the technology? The ability to decarbonize, achieve resiliency and lower costs top the list, according to Alex Savelli, executive director of power generation at Cummins.

Cummins is especially focused on decarbonization through use of hydrogen — including in fuel cells and electrolyzers. Using hydrogen in microgrids can play an important role in reducing carbon emissions and in overcoming many of the challenges associated with the conventional energy economy.

The second benefit, resiliency, captures interest as more storms knock out power across the US.

The third benefit — lowering costs — can be achieved with energy modeling, which can help optimize designs and monitor microgrid systems to achieve power efficiency.

Examples of cost savings

There are many examples of cost savings brought by microgrids. One is the McKinleyville Community Services District in northern California, which is building a $2 million microgrid at a wastewater treatment plant. The potential for savings prompted the move; the district expects to save $65,000 in the first year.

Despite the many microgrid benefits, obstacles remain. Regulation has not kept up with technology developments. But that’s beginning to change. In California and Texas, regulators are examining the relationship between third-party microgrids and utilities. They’re reviewing standards that determine the value of resiliency.

For example, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is working to create an electric resilience metric as part of its effort to speed the deployment of microgrids.

The effort was prompted by SB 1339, which requires regulatory changes to support microgrid development. That legislation led to the creation of the CPUC’s Resiliency and Microgrid Working Group, which is looking into various ways to quantify the value of electric resilience.

Savelli hopes that a new national approach will emerge, benefitting both customers and society in general.

Interconnection woes and mythical notions

Another obstacle to forward movement in the industry is interconnection. Bringing third-party microgrids into the existing power infrastructure isn’t always easy. “We could benefit from a fresh review of this as we think about the benefits of decarbonization, resiliency and economics that microgrids could bring if there’s a standardized interconnection process,” said Savelli.

Also impeding progress are myths about microgrids. The top myths are that microgrids are too expensive, too complicated and don’t provide enough value, said Savelli.

But microgrids don’t have to be expensive. Companies can keep costs in check by using existing assets — such as generator sets — to build microgrids. They can then add solar PV panels, controls and storage.

And microgrids don’t need to be complex.

“Be on the lookout for solutions that are simple and that when implemented make microgrids easy to operate,” said Savelli. “If the right technology can be used in the right place, complexity can be reduced without compromising on resiliency, decarbonization and economics,” he added.

Cummins microgrid reduces fuel usage

Cost savings are also within reach of microgrid owners. For example, Cummins a decade ago installed a microgrid on a remote island in British Columbia that has reduced fuel usage by more than 80%.

Innovation is also an important driver in the industry. With investments in green and other technologies, the microgrid industry — and the general public — can experience the benefits of innovation.

The microgrid industry’s many gains and its potential to move forward have Savelli optimistic about its future.

“It’s an exciting industry to be part of,” he said.

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

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