The good thing about microgrids is that they are often built to the user’s particular needs. That’s also the bad thing about microgid development.
Such tailoring — the kind found in advanced microgrids like those at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Princeton University, or Montgomery County, Maryland — takes a lot of planning. Consideration must go into the site’s unique energy profile. How does the customer use energy, what’s the cost, what kind of resources are available locally? And that’s just the start in a process that can require multiple consultants and vendors to complete.
Getting to these answers slows microgrid development, which is an issue in places like California where power outages are now routine due to wildfire threats. Households and businesses need microgrids yesterday.
Is there a way to streamline the steps?
A lot of people are on the mission, among them Worley, an international engineering, procurement and construction company and Xendee, a California energy software firm. Together they recently formed a joint venture, Veckta, that they say offers a way to significantly reduce the time and cost of microgrid development.
To move forward or not?
Veckta provides a software as a service product that takes on several development steps typically done by a range of vendors. It “very quickly allows you to assess, design and optimize distributed energy solutions, both technically and financially,” said Gareth Evans, Veckta CEO & co-founder, in an interview with Microgrid Knowledge.
The partners have used the software for their own projects, among them a microgrid for Seattle City Lights and others for the cannabis industry, a 110 MW fully islanded system in North America, and a hybrid microgrid in Australia.
They decided to release the software broadly to help move microgrids forward more quickly. Evans sees it assisting consultants, constructors, equipment vendors and ultimately microgrid customers.
The current iteration of the software gives users the ability to “screen whether it’s even worth them assessing the opportunity in the first place,” he said. And if they see that the microgrid will help them reduce emissions, cut costs or increase electric reliability, they then move into the design and engineering phases “a lot more quickly than previously.”
Veckta estimates that using the software cuts costs by 90% in the feasibility study phase alone, which otherwise runs $100,000 to $250,000.
The software also helps educate customers about what kind of generation and assets will work best with their load. The developer can quickly redirect a customer who may start with an idea for a microgrid — say a solar plus storage system — when in fact another technology like combined heat and power would be more effective.
Veckta’s creators wanted to make the software easy and pleasing to use, so drew from the feel of the popular game SimCity.
The microgrid designer starts by inputting customer information, such as location, current load profile, and goals — emission reductions, cost savings or increased reliability. The software then runs hundreds of thousands of scenarios based on the equipment in the market, solar and wind information, natural gas prices, utility prices and other parameters and then produces the best approach.
“Then you have the ability to go into the technical design of that and really critique it, see why it came up with that solution and then modify accordingly as you see fit,” Evans said.
Veckta also helps overcome the over sizing or under sizing of microgrids, he said. “So you’re not adding in any additional costs or resiliency or backup or if it’s not needed.”
Veckta among several ways to speed microgrid development
Evans sees Veckta, ultimately, as a time saver and confidence builder for microgrid customers, a way to know quickly they’ve got the right configuration.
Veckta is one of several efforts underway to streamline microgrid development. Others include hardware in the loop and model based engineering, plug and play microgrid designs and mobile microgrids, all innovations that, if successful, will remove the adjective “complex” to descriptions of microgrid development.
What are other examples of ways to streamline microgrid development? Let’s open up a discussion on the options. Please post your thoughts in the comments below or on our LinkedIn Group, Microgrid Knowledge.