Nicole Bulgarino, executive vice president and general manager of federal solutions at Ameresco, spoke to Elisa Wood, editor-in-chief of Microgrid Knowledge, at Microgrid 2020 Global about Ameresco’s new floating solar microgrid project — still a rare technology in the U.S.
Wood kicked off the interview by asking Bulgarino about the work Ameresco has been doing in the microgrid space, in particular, a recently announced project in partnership with Duke Energy at Fort Bragg Army Base in North Carolina.
Bulgarino said that the project is being completed under a utility energy services contract for the Army base and is focused on a microgrid and power generation as well as energy efficiency.
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The project includes traditional lighting upgrades throughout the base, as well as water conservation measures and what Bulgarino pointed out as other “much needed mechanical upgrades.”
That said, what makes this project stand out is a floating photovoltaic (PV) system, the first of its kind for Ameresco. These are PV modules that will sit on a damned-off water reservoir. The modules will cover about two acres of water and provide over a megawatt of power.
Located in a remote area where the Fort Bragg troops hold special ops training, the floating solar microgrid offers several advantages, including providing power at a remote site without using up needed land.
“It’s actually a very effective way to do it. The water is there to help keep the panels cooler, so it gives them a little more efficiency,” Bulgarino said. “And the installation is quite simple as well.”
Solar floating microgrid healthy for lake
“It’s great for, particularly, manmade lakes or just water that doesn’t have a lot of waves to it. It’s actually healthy for the water system itself, and it’s a great way to get electrical power.”
The approach also creates cost savings and resilience.
“One of the drivers for Department of Defense, and Army specifically in this case, is to have some kind of resiliency in their projects, and the energy security for them is very high priority,” Bulgarino said.
As for any construction or operational challenges specific to undertaking this type of floating solar microgrid, one has to make sure the local water, environment and aquatic life has been considered before the project can be implemented and construction can begin.
The floating solar microgrid avoids the land excavation of a traditional ground mount, Bulgarino added. “It is anchored at the bottom of the lake, and then the electrical lines are just run — just conduit throughout the lake — and so there’s not a lot of added excavation and civil work that you might have.”
The project is expected to be in operation within 12 months, completed at a cost comparable to a traditional microgrid.
A sign of the times
Given her background in engineering, Bulgarino finds this to be an intriguing time for energy and resource management. The floating solar microgrid offers one example. She sees rapid change underway not only in the microgrid space, but also in building controls and water and wastewater management. The times are, in short, exciting, she said.