Could the David Johnston Research + Technology Park Microgrid Be a Model?

April 19, 2019
Many tend to think of a microgrid as an enclosed campus with generation, energy storage and a resource management system, all islandable from the grid. But that thinking is limited. Here’s how they can be more.

Many tend to think of a microgrid as an enclosed campus with generation, energy storage and a resource management system, all islandable from the grid. But that thinking is limited. Microgrids also can involve small commercial communities, as planned by Canadian company Stantec, projects that right-size distributed energy resources so that an entire community benefits rather than just the host facility.

“In other words, a facility may host more solar than is needed by the facility, says Michael Voll, global sector leader for smart technologies at Stantec, a group of engineers, scientists and project managers who try to advance the quality of life in communities across the globe.

The excess solar energy could be provided — in a novel type of energy transaction — to other facilities that do not host solar.

Voll believes that Stantec’s microgrid concept “could be replicated across North America and beyond.”

Consider the David Johnston Research + Technical Park in Ontario, Canada near the University of Waterloo’s North Campus: The park is designed to accommodate 1.2 million square feet of office space on 120 acres. And the campus boasts that 70% of the world’s gross domestic product runs on software and systems that are created by companies within the boundaries of the park. The research center is thus a natural setting for a microgrid, battery storage and sustainable generation.

Connecting the campus to distributed energy resources will be done in phases, with the first one to hook up five buildings with 1.2 MW of rooftop solar coupled with 4 MWh of battery storage, expandable to 10 MWh.

“The epicenter of this microgrid would be a net-positive energy building called Evolv1 which incorporates LEED Platinum design concepts…an innovative geo-exchange system utilizing a variable refrigerant flow system for heating and cooling, a solar wall and triple glazed windows, significant electric vehicle charging and to top it off, enough solar PV to not only power the building, but with significant surplus to spare,” says Voll.

“In fact the building was recently awarded the very first Net Zero Building certification from the Canadian Green Building Council,” he adds.

To allow sharing of a storage asset across several different customers on the same distribution feeder, a virtual net metering policy would be required. That might allow a developer to own the solar and batteries and then to aggregate it together as though it was “one facility under the same meter,” Voll continues.

The solar and batteries would be owned by a developer who could in turn sell energy usage to facility owners in a type of energy services agreement.  The facility owners would benefit in electricity bill savings, and the developer would benefit as the owner operator of the assets. That developer could be the regulated utility or an unregulated utility, although good policies are not currently in place to let them sell such a flexible service.

The ultimate benefit, Voll concludes, is that the whole campus would have electricity resiliency and backup power in the event of a utility outage. Beyond that, it has electric vehicle charge buffering protection for distribution transformers and the potential for facility energy trading via blockchain energy ledgers or transactive energy. 

Development of the David Johnston microgrid is still in the feasibility stage. Stantec applied for federal funding but a change in the Canadian provincial government has served to postpone financing and construction. Now the company is seeking alternative funding to move ahead.

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About the Author

Ken Silverstein

Since the late 1990s, I've covered energy, beginning with the rise and fall of Enron -- first as a magazine writer before becoming a columnist. For more than seven years, I've been a columnist for Forbes while also expanding my coverage to include key environmental issues and emerging technologies such as microgrids. I've also done some global reporting of those same issues that touch the African and Asian regions. My work has appeared in, and by cited by, dozens of publications and broadcasts.

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