Ameren Microgrid Goes Live as First in Utility Cybersecurity

May 19, 2017
The Ameren microgrid, described by the utility and a key partner as one of the most technologically advanced utility-scale microgrids in North America, is now live in Champaign, Illinois.

The Ameren Microgrid, a complex cybersecure microgrid, is now live and operating adjacent to the University of Illinois in Champaign.

Developed by Ameren Illinois, the 1.475 MW test project is being described by the utility and a key partner as one of the most technologically advanced utility-scale microgrids in North America. In addition to advanced controls, the microgrid includes wind, solar, natural gas and energy storage.

Thursday’s announcement of the cybersecure microgrid comes, coincidently, at a time of heightened worldwide concern about hacking, following a massive ransomware attack May 12 that spread across 150 nations, infecting hundreds of thousands of businesses and institutions from British hospitals to FedEx in the U.S. and car factories in France.

Ameren is the first utility to install a military-grade cybersecure microgrid controller, which is manufactured by S&C Electric subsidiary IPERC. Called the GridMaster, it is the only microgrid controller that has obtained an Authority to Operate (ATO) from the Department of Defense.

In addition to its cybersecurity features, the Ameren microgrid achieves two other technology ‘firsts,’ according to David Chiesa, senior director of business development at S&C Electric, which handled engineering, procurement, and construction, engineering studies and commissioning, and provided 250 kW of battery energy storage and switch gear.

  1. The Ameren microgrid marks the first time a utility is serving paying customer loads on a utility distribution feeder in North America. The microgrid’s distributed generation can be delivered directly to local customers, routed to the central grid, or stored in the microgrid’s battery.
  2. It is the only known utility-scale microgrid in the nation capable of seamlessly transitioning the power source for an entire distribution circuit from the microgrid to the grid, according to Chisea.

This prevents power from going out for customers when the microgrid is reconnecting to the grid after being in island mode, Chiesa said. Microgrids typically move into island mode when the central grid fails. In island mode they rely on their own generation to serve customers until the central grid is restored, at which time the microgrid reconnects.

Take a look inside the Ameren Microgrid.

The Ameren microgrid also is one of the few in the world that operates at utility-scale voltages, between 4 kV and 34.5 kV, with multiple levels of control, according to the utility.

Located at Ameren’s Technology Applications Center (TAC), the microgrid is being used by the utility to test monitoring and control methods for aggregating clean energy with advanced automation and battery storage.

Courtesy of Ameren

“Our focus on building a next generation energy delivery system has enabled Illinois to emerge as a national leader in smart grid innovation,” said Richard Mark, chairman and president of St. Louis-based Ameren Illinois, which serves 2.4 million electric customers and more than 900,000 natural gas customers.

Mark added: “As the technologies we are testing at this microgrid facility become more accessible in the future, our customers will be able to count on Ameren Illinois to help them safely install and cost-effectively operate distributed generation resources.”

S&C began work on the project in mid-September and completed it on December 22, when it went into testing mode for several months. “It was a very short delivery time,” Chisea said.

Other contractors include Caterpillar, which provided 1 MW of natural gas generators; Northern Power Systems, a 100-kW, 160-foot wind turbine; and Yingli, a 125-kW solar array.

“Integrating microgrids onto our system can provide cleaner energy and a stronger, smarter grid capable of delivering the products and services to fit the needs of our future customers and the communities we serve,” said Warner Baxter, chairman, president and CEO of Ameren. “There is no better time than now to innovate and position Ameren for even better results in the years ahead.”

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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, 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.

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