When IPERC customers decide that they want a microgrid for their local energy needs, one of the first questions we ask is: “What do you see as the primary goal or objective for your microgrid?” In many cases end-use customers are seeking sustainable solutions for their energy needs. But what does this mean?
As Jeffrey Sachs points out in his book The Age of Sustainable Development, “it is a mistake to believe that the world’s sustainable development problems can be boiled down to one idea or one solution”. Just as a Microgrid is often a complex system of systems, Sachs notes that sustainable development is a complex system touching four subsystems: 1) A global economy; 2) Social interactions; 3) Earth Systems; and 4) Governance.
Against this backdrop, IPERC views sustainability as a key driver for many of the projects we work on. First, most new microgrids that we see include renewables (e.g. wind, solar) as a prime source of energy. Energy Storage is typically a critical buffer, providing necessary services to assist with the inherent intermittent nature of renewable assets. With respect to sustainability, this increased use of renewables can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help attain renewable regulatory goals, and in some cases fulfill net zero energy goals.
Renewables-based microgrids have different manifestations depending upon a customer’s unique needs. To a Commercial & Industrial organization, renewable energy is often seen as good business or a carbon risk management strategy. In a 2017 report, Ceres found that 63% of Fortune 100 companies have set one or more clean energy targets, and that 48% of Fortune 500 companies have at least one climate or clean energy target. “American businesses are leading the transition to a clean economy because its smart business and it is what their customers want”, notes report author, Marty Spitzer, World Wildlife Fund’s senior director of climate and renewable energy.
The electric power generation industry is undergoing a profound change from a centralized hub and spokes framework to a decentralized paradigm. Investor owned utilities (IOU’s) and publicly-owned utilities (POU’s) are riding the microgrid wave. In many cases this includes microgrids that are primarily powered by renewables and storage. According to a 2018 report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, 29 states and the District of Columbia have Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). This comprises 55% of total U.S. Retail Electricity Sales. There is a trend towards more states considering RPS, and those that have RPS policies increasing their targets. This, in turn, drives renewables-based microgrids as utilities shift their generation from centralized fossil fuel based to decentralized renewables-based.
IPERC has worked on military microgrids for the entirety of its 14-year existence, most notably on the Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security (SPIDERS) projects at 1) Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickham; 2) Fort Carson CO; and 3) Camp Smith, HI. Most recently, the Army’s Office of Energy Initiatives has codified specific policy around resiliency: “The Army seeks to achieve energy security and resilience on its installations by developing “islandable” projects…….to provide access to necessary energy and water for a minimum of 14 days in the event of a disruption.”
While the Army’s policy is fuel neutral, renewable generation such as wind and solar require no transport or storage of fuel, thereby reducing resiliency risk compared with more traditional diesel or natural gas generation. When renewables are paired with energy storage and controlled by an intelligent control solution like IPERC’s GridMaster, a highly resilient microgrid can be established, meeting the 14-day requirement.
At IPERC, we often refer to the DER’s within a microgrid as the hybrid power plant. This hybrid power plant requires our intelligent control system, GridMaster®, to optimize the use of all installed Distributed Energy Resource Assets, including the renewable generation and storage resources. The GridMaster also interfaces with the core electrical infrastructure providing additional switching capabilities to maintain grid stability. Energy supply is managed closely to follow demand, while maintaining ideal power quality. This provides the end user with increased reliability, increased resiliency, and direct control over achieving sustainability and clean energy objectives. In many cases this delicate dance can also reduce energy costs.