Go Slow to Go Fast When Writing a Microgrid RFP

May 24, 2021
Microgrid RFP writers should put as much thought as possible into what a successful project will look like, and then work backward to identify what’s needed to reach that goal.

When writing a microgrid RFP (requests for proposals), it’s important to go slow in order to go fast. This means that it’s critical to do as much upfront work as possible before issuing the microgrid RFP.

“Adding extra time at the front end and thoughtfulness into the RFP with as much detail as possible can help you finish a more successful project,” said Eric Wagner, operations director, non-wires alternatives for S&C Electric, who recently spoke to Elisa Wood, editor-in-chief of Microgrid Knowledge as part of the Microgrid 2021 executive interview series. “Go slow at the beginning of the process to go fast,” he said.

RFP writers should put as much thought as possible into what a successful project will look like, and then work backward to identify what’s needed to reach that goal. The RFP issuer should focus on things such as financial requirements, reliability, resilience, cybersecurity options and operations and maintenance plans. What does the microgrid seeker want the microgrid to do? What shouldn’t it do?

Consider site constraints

It’s important to identify existing constraints at the site, including load profiles and site limitations.

For example, Wagner said, microgrid seekers should say whether the site of the potential microgrid has an existing data infrastructure that will allow the microgrid parts to communicate. Or will a new data infrastructure be needed as part of the project?

Will the microgrid be required to black start, or energize without any outside power sources? If so, the RFP should say how quickly the microgrid needs to energize. There’s a big difference between needing an immediate start, as opposed to a start after five minutes.

What do you want your microgrid to achieve?

RFP writers should also identify which sources of microgrid value are most important, Wagner said.  They should keep in mind that microgrids offer numerous sources of value, including those relating to economic, resiliency and sustainability goals. This will help bidders develop solutions that respond to the specific problems the microgrid must address. RFP writers need to think through technical, financial and stakeholder issues as early as possible in the process. If they skip this process, they may end up with bids or projects that don’t meet their needs.

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In writing a microgrid RFP, it’s also important to identify who will be responsible for operations, maintenance and cybersecurity. Answering these difficult questions as early as possible facilitates the development process.

Be candid, Wagner said, and open with potential developers about the needs the microgrid will serve. Being candid about what’s important helps developers come up with creative, customized solutions.

Microgrid seekers should also identify the metrics they plan to use to evaluate the project moving forward, he said.

Utility microgrid RFPs

S&C Electric sees more and more utilities now issuing RFPs for microgrids, and in many cases, this is the first time they’re issuing them. Many have experience with research or pilot projects, but few have experience with RFPs. Some utility RFPs are looking, in general, for microgrid capacity. Some need to add distributed generation and grid functionality or the need to island at specific substations.

Utilities are showing strong interest in incorporating renewable energy into complex microgrid solutions. For these utilities and other microgrid seekers, there are some advantages to issuing a general RFP to solve their problems because this can elicit a broad range of responses and spark creative solutions, Wagner said.

It’s about more than distributed generation

But general RFPs sometimes overemphasize distributed generation. Overfocusing on distributed generation can underemphasize important issues such as effective electrical design and thoughtful controls.

With a general RFP, it’s also sometimes difficult to do apples to apples comparisons if the RFP attracts drastically different responses from the marketplace. Typically, it’s better to provide as much technical information as possible so the microgrid providers aren’t forced to make assumptions that may not be correct, Wagner said. If microgrid customers are seeking the best solution, they don’t want bidders to make guesses that can create challenges later on in the form of change orders or compromised functionality.

Do your homework before writing a microgrid RFP

Bottom line? Microgrid seekers should do their homework upfront and include as many details as possible when writing a microgrid RFP.

“RFPs are good, but how they’re written is important,” said Wagner.

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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

Facebook: Energy Efficiency Markets


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