Bill Kipnis, of the Siemens Building Performance & Sustainability Division, explores how university microgrids can ramp up resilience, cost savings and sustainability — all crucially important in navigating the COVID-19 impact on these institutions.
I recently moderated a higher education panel at Microgrid Knowledge’s Virtual Microgrid Conference that featured Sonoma County Junior College District, California State University at San Marcos, and Montclair State University. As you could probably guess, the pandemic and Covid-19’s impact was a major topic of concern. Over 500 people listened to the discussion, becoming members of a larger community who understand the value of microgrids in a portfolio of campus efforts towards resiliency, utility and operations savings, digitalization of information, and energy sustainability.
In response to the pandemic, some colleges/universities will adapt new and longer schedules in order to de-clutter their buildings, require some on-campus education to be online, and make other changes that potentially increase utility and maintenance costs. In turn, energy efficiency measures are at risk. Those campuses that have transitioned to a microgrid strategy, and gained greater independence from the utility, will use their systems to maintain their energy savings programs. For campuses that have adopted distributed energy (e.g., solar PV), the transition to a fully functional microgrid is relatively inexpensive.
As one example, we presented Sonoma County Junior College District’s goals and objectives, which, are representative of many higher education institutions:
The objective of microgrids is adaptable. Within the goal of reducing costs, microgrids not only protect investments in energy efficiency, but also provide revenues by controlling utility grid flow/voltage and optimize the existing investments in energy and storage. Since a microgrid can host diverse DERs (e.g., solar PV, battery energy storage system, EV chargers, CHP, etc.), a microgrid application can provide cost efficiency and resiliency under normal conditions and reliability under emergency conditions. Additionally, an intelligent microgrid controller provides the ability to control every major end-use breaker in the local substation (for load shedding), black-start capability, and seamless island mode functionality (due to the loss of the utility grid).
Lastly, on-campus microgrids align with student interest and educational objectives to increase experiential learning. Meeting academic requirements and running facilities can go hand-in-hand as long as it is about explaining concepts on the workings of a microgrid system. For example, Sonoma County Junior College District downloads its interval data to send to its engineering classes, who then use MATLAB to conduct analytics on large datasets.
In summary, microgrids coupled with intelligent microgrid controllers provide the following benefits to higher education institutions:
- Ability to remain operating during periods when the local power grid is not in service
- Measurable economic benefit
- Automatic functionality
- Supporting the stability of the local power utility network during peak demand days
- Achieving sustainability
Bill Kipnis is the senior business development manager for the Siemens Building Performance & Sustainability Division.