Is It Time to Dust Off Your Microgrid Implementation Plan?

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Emily LeJeune, manager-federal market, S&C Electric shares the five critical stages that should be included in every microgrid implementation plan.

microgrid implementation plan

Emily LeJeune, Manager-Federal Market, S&C Electric 

More microgrids are being used to support the electric grid each year because they are flexible solutions for a variety of energy challenges. Despite their growing prevalence, microgrids are not one size fits all, and their unique nature can trip up even the most advanced engineers and utility staff. Repurposing older microgrid implementation plans can help speed up the deployment process, but a lot has changed over the years. This spring, take some time to review your microgrid implementation plan and verify these five critical stages are included: Feasibility, Multiphase Design, Comprehensive Commissioning, Cybersecurity and Considerations for Future Growth.

Feasibility

The financial, resilience and sustainability impact for each microgrid is different. Conducting a feasibility assessment at the beginning of the process will help uncover potential system-specific benefits and challenges. It can be easy to overlook details at the beginning of the process, but missing details can result in increased costs and project delays.

Asking questions during this feasibility assessment is critical to a successful kickoff of your microgrid project. The following are some examples of basic issues and considerations to evaluate:

  • What infrastructure and equipment are already in place at the site that can support a new microgrid?
  • How do existing and future planned assets line up with existing and future loads?
  • Which of your electrical loads are the most important?
  • Have you mapped out the microgrid’s functions back to the problems you want solved?
  • Which types of power generation will you include in the microgrid?
  • Can you “own” power generation, or must it come from a third party?
Multiphase Design

Once the feasibility study is complete, it may be tempting to move straight to the requests for proposal process. However, because of the complexity of microgrids and the variety of equipment and vendors needed to get from start to finish, it’s critical to begin basic designs as soon as the feasibility study is complete.

First up is the conceptual design. What general assets will be included? What are the goals of the system? Following this comes the development of the 30% system design. This involves laying out the basic types and sizes of technologies involved (including existing assets) and their intended locations, the methods for interconnecting them within a microgrid, and a plan for working with the local utility. The plan here is to help set the course for future design considerations.

A key consideration to this stage in the process is asking whether real estate is available to achieve the goals of the project.

  • Do the topology and site features match up with the type of energy generation likely to be used?
  • What are the potential local concerns about the microgrid’s visibility, noise, emissions, etc.?
  • How might the community and utility infrastructure be affected by the microgrid?
  • How will buildings be connected to the energy source?
  • How many switching procedures will be required to start or stop the power flow, and at which locations? (Note: The fewer switching procedures, the better.)
  • Where is the site’s existing data communications infrastructure located, and how can the microgrid leverage it?

Once these steps have been taken and the system logistics have been determined, the 30% design facilitates the path forward for the full system design, including a utility interconnection agreement. A high level of expertise is needed at this stage, which is why the microgrid integrator must be familiar with the electrical distribution equipment, distributed energy resources and control software. Together, a microgrid owner and integrator can effectively move through these stages, resulting in a full Issued for Construction design package.

Comprehensive Commissioning

A common misconception is that commissioning considerations only come into play at the end of a project. However, it is more effective to take a collaborative, start-to-finish approach. Before a microgrid can be fully operational, it must complete on-site system commissioning and site acceptance testing to ensure all the components and connections form a coherent system. If a problem is discovered at this stage, it can delay completion timelines while replacement components are secured.

The best microgrid projects develop a commissioning plan as soon as they complete the 30% design phase to be followed during the full system design process. It is critical that all major equipment go through the necessary and required factory acceptance testing throughout the design and installation processes. Ensuring every asset placed within the microgrid works the way it is supposed to individually will streamline on-site system commissioning and testing when all the pieces come together.

Cybersecurity

As important as cybersecurity is to a microgrid, it continues to be an afterthought for many deployments. Cybersecurity cannot simply be added to a finished microgrid — it must be integrated throughout the full system design process to ensure all components of the system are viewed through a cyber lens.

Determining the level of cybersecurity a microgrid needs depends on the critical loads it will support and the requirements of each installation. An experienced microgrid integrator can help ascertain the level of protection a system needs during the early phases of the design process.

That’s not to say cybersecurity cannot be added at the end of the project, but it will take a lot of additional time and overhead to make it work. On average, retroactively adding cybersecurity can take an additional 6 to 24 months to complete, depending on the level of protection needed. If cybersecurity is important to the project, you simply can’t afford for it to be an afterthought.

Lastly, cybersecurity requirements are likely to be enhanced around industrial control systems. Are microgrid system owners prepared for this?

Considerations for Future Growth

If the microgrid integrator and design teams know early on that the microgrid will likely grow in the coming years, the technology integrated into today’s microgrid must accommodate that expansion. Will the microgrid need more assets in 3 to 5 years? Is the microgrid owner looking to expand the number of customers served by the microgrid in 5 to 10 years?

A microgrid is an investment, but if the equipment specified for the system is not designed to “play nice” with others or is too complicated for microgrid owners to manipulate on their own, it can make expansion difficult and expensive. Looking toward future considerations, a microgrid owner may ask whether a system using user configurability has been explored.

When reviewing your microgrid integration plan, it’s important to remember microgrids are composed of assets that were not built to work together, which can make microgrid design and commissioning challenging. Making sure these five critical considerations are included in your plan will help your project run smoothly.

This article was written by Emily LeJeune, manager-federal market, S&C Electric. To review and evaluate a full list of considerations, and additional tips for microgrid implementation, explore this guidebook.

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