Public and private sector microgrids each play roles in keeping the lights on in a crisis. Kristin Barbato, vice president, Customer Energy Solutions at New York Power Authority (NYPA), recently spoke with marcus evans about the interplay of these resources, how to create more of them, and model projects.
How can public sector microgrids be used in the private sector? And vice versa?
KB: There are several ways that microgrids can be mutually beneficial to both the public and private sectors. During the course of day-to-day utility operations, microgrids can serve as additional resources of electricity; potentially alleviating the need for utilities to increase generating capacity for incremental power needs. During emergencies or when the grid is constrained by outages, public sector sited microgrids enable critical services such as police, fire, telecom, and healthcare to operate without interruption. Additionally, both public and privately sited microgrids may allow campuses or other large assembly spaces to serve as centers of refuge for their surrounding communities, as they have power to provide service for light, heat, hygiene, and communications.
What roadblocks stand in the way of a successful cross over between the public and private sectors?
KB: First, it should be noted that there are several examples of successful microgrid collaborations between the public and private sectors. I think the question here is how to expand upon these microgrid infrastructure partnerships to increase their usage, while also ensuring safe and reliable generation and distribution of electricity. Aside from the technologies required to interconnect a microgrid system to the grid, there are also other important concepts to consider such as logistics of dispatch, safe operation and management of equipment, and economic investment and benefit.
As microgrids proliferate in number and usage, operational and financial protocols will need to change to adapt to a rapidly changing electric generation and transmission landscape. The private and public sectors must work together to develop policy structures that establish the “rules of the road”, for both the technical and the economic considerations of microgrids and successful integration with the grid. In New York State, Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative provides the infrastructure and policies for this change. This unprecedented energy modernization initiative will fundamentally transform the way electricity is distributed and used in New York State and enable pathways for integration of customer resources such as microgrids.
Learn more on this topic by attending Microgrid Development for Public & Private Sectors East Coast Conference, March 3-5, 2015 in New Jersey.
How can reliable energy alternatives positively affect the military?
KB: The military was an early adopter of microgrid technology due to the need for reliable power resources and electric distribution systems to localized areas such as bases and combat zones. Often the fuel source for electric generation can be scarce, unreliable, or prohibitively expensive in areas where the military operates. Therefore, the need to have fail-safe electrification for these communities and infrastructures can be seen not only as a necessity for their operations but also as an investment in security. Microgrids that allow for energy infrastructures with flexibility generation or distribution, can also support the stealth operations (lower noise and/or infrared signature) often required on military campuses.
What role do microgrids play in the future of energy readiness?
KB: Microgrids can enable more efficient grid operation by providing additional power supply during periods of peak electric demand, lessening grid congestion and the need to construct and operate costly additional infrastructure that is only necessary for a handful of hours in a year. Microgrid systems spur the development and deployment of new customer-sided technologies for local usage and enhance the resiliency and reliability of the grid as a whole.
What current projects do you recommend companies look to for guidance? How do these projects exemplify the significance of using reliable energy alternatives?
KB: We need only to look to case studies from Hurricane Sandy to find some very impressive microgrid success stories. Two cases that come to mind include NYU and Princeton’s microgrids. Although neither of these cogeneration based microgrids were sized to support 100 percent electric service for their respective campuses, they were able to support critical operations for several days while the local grid was down. As a result, the losses for these universities were mitigated and the campuses also served as appropriate points of assembly for first responders.
Another microgrid case study for businesses to examine is the 40-MW Co-Op City microgrid located in the Bronx. This cogen plant provides heat and power to one of the largest cooperative housing developments in the world. The so-called “city within a city” has more than 50,000 residents and boasts over 14,000 apartment units in 35 high rise buildings as well as multiple schools and shopping centers.
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