Major Hurdles to the Fast and Scalable Deployment of Microgrids in the Defense and Government Marketplace

Nov. 23, 2021
Microgrid goals and metrics should be clearly defined at the start of the project and reflected on during each stage. Michael Stadler and Zach Pecenak of Xendee share three key elements for defense and government microgrid project success and efficiency.  

Michael Stadler, CTO, and Zach Pecenak, lead engineer at Xendee share three key elements for project success and efficiency for defense and government microgrids.

Zack Pecenak, lead engineer at Xendee

Microgrids are considered to be a key element for energy security within the Department of Defense (DoD) and other federal and state agencies. However, they are complex systems that intertwine many jurisdictions and departments. Those tasked with managing the energy security of an installation (for example, the director of public works in the Army) are typically not microgrid specialists, nor do they have the time to manage and implement the design themselves.

For most energy managers, it is even unclear where to start the process because site goals and funding mechanisms must align, adding extra complexity. For example, if the installation’s goal is resilience, managers should plan to seek funding from the Energy Resilience Conservation Investment Program (ERCIP) and must be familiar with the requirements and limits of the program. Conversely, when energy cost reduction is the goal, managers should plan for an Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC), which has a completely different structure. However, this can become especially challenging as there are often multiple conflicting goals because cost savings, resilience improvements and CO2 reductions are all important and must be considered in concert. Further, there is no standardized modeling and implementation approach for microgrids at their disposal, nor is there a universal metric to demonstrate the need for funding over other equally strained installations.

Outsourcing the conceptual design and engineering of the microgrid is the norm. However, this alleviates only part of this problem and introduces other issues. For example, the consultant is unlikely to be familiar with the chain of command at the installation, the local and regional standards, or the master plan around which the system must be implemented. Further, to carry out the microgrid design, significant operational data is needed but is often not easily obtainable because of a lack of metering and instead is proxied with knowledge provided by the installation. All this information also needs to be provided to the third party or service entity within the DoD (e.g., NAVFAC EXWC). Often, the data is transferred via email, creating potential security risks and making the whole process slow and expensive. To improve security, a data exchange method is necessary which structures the data in a consistent way and makes it easy to securely share the data with a third party or the service entity to stay in sync and avoid delays.

However, even if all the information is obtained securely, the disparate nature of geography, strategy, local facility priorities and utility regulations of each installation requires that consultants weave together tools with different purposes (e.g., PV performance studies, tools for conceptual economic design, electrical upgrade analyses, power flow studies, etc.) to come up with a complete design. This process requires handing off the project to multiple stakeholders causing delays and inefficiencies. As a result, the path to getting a microgrid designed and implemented is long and often unclear, jeopardizing energy security goals.

In response to this, our approach has been to work with the DoD and specific DoD facilities to examine standard practices for designing and implementing microgrids efficiently in a repeatable and scalable manner. We have teamed up with universities and national laboratories to document, validate and improve the design process tailored to the unique needs of the DoD. This work has illuminated a clear and repeatable process broken into multiple stages that are applicable for most microgrid projects. Funding milestones for carrying out the different stages are also coupled with decision stages to link the process together. The goal is to create an integrated design work flow where funding can be sought incrementally, and each stage of the design process can be modeled in a standardized way and validated before moving on. This is represented in the figure below (gray arrows in the figure represent information flows influencing the linked stages):

Source: Xendee

As part of our research, we have identified a few key elements for project success and efficiency:

First, microgrid goals and metrics should be clearly defined at the start of the project and reflected on during each stage. This builds the foundation of the design process and sets into motion the implementation process, such as data to be collected, tools to be used and funding opportunities to be examined. Clearly defined objectives, a structure which can properly balance those objectives, metrics which signal success of each objective, and a vision of how these relate to the available funding are critical.

Second, it is important that there is a microgrid champion on the installation who can work with the third-party consultants or service entity. This person is critical to coordinating assets and personnel on the installation, providing a guiding direction in the design process, managing data security, and ensuring all regulations and site goals are met.

Third, it is essential to understand all the steps for a successful microgrid implementation. This ensures that earlier steps consider later ones and that mission-critical requirements are addressed throughout the design process, ensuring efficiency and avoiding costly mistakes. This also aids in obtaining authority to operate through the DoD Risk Management Framework, which is a significant responsibility and should be coordinated through the entire design process (especially the communication and infrastructure planning). For example, when calculating system costs and operating specifications, real-world vendor equipment should be considered which already meets the proper communication and cybersecurity protocols established by the risk management framework. This avoids inefficiencies at the later stages of implementation and avoids cost overruns by identifying approved hardware before making investment decisions and financial projections which may affect the overall viability of the project.

Ensuring that these fundamentals are present, coupled with the selection of appropriate design approaches, microgrids are poised to be a reliable resource within the DoD to provide energy security to government and military facilities around the world. We believe this streamlined approach will allow the pricing of these technologies to fall dramatically. This will allow the government sector to be a key driver and source of research for large-scale microgrid deployments, empowering the public and private sectors as well as global partners to reach sustainability.

Michael Stadler is chief technology officer at Xendee. Zack Pecenak is lead engineer at Xendee. Xendee develops microgrid decision support software that helps designers and investors optimize and certify resilience and financial performance of projects.

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