Microgrid Technology May be Taking Off Faster than Expected

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Rapid disruption in the electric power world has skeptics changing their minds about how quickly microgrid technology will take off. Demand Energy’s Doug Staker says he numbers himself among them.

microgrid technology

Doug Staker, Demand Energy

With the business case proving itself more quickly than many originally envisioned, microgrid technology is going to “accelerate faster than most believed,” said Staker, who leads the business development group for Demand Energy, an Enel company.

By way of example, Staker will present case studies at Microgrid 2017 — November 6 in Boston — of microgrids his company has developed.

Microgrid 2017 was sold out! Register now for Microgrid 2018 in Chicago.

In a recent interview, he cited falling costs for solar and energy storage as a key reason “interest in microgrids is really kicking up.”

Solar plus storage systems, often built into contemporary microgrids, are beating the status quo technology – diesel back-up generators – on costs when installed in certain remote microgrids, he said.

He finds the cost proposition even more interesting for grid-connected microgrids in places like New York, where demand charges run as high as $22-$40/kW and capacity challenges exist. Solar plus storage can act as firm capacity in these markets and help bring down the costs.

“When we look in those markets – especially where there are incentives for grid stress relief – it is cost effective,” Staker said.

In addition, globally utilities are beginning to view microgrids as non-wires alternatives, a technology that offers better economics to solve certain problems than construction of new transmission and distribution lines. By way of example, he described a utility in Canada, where lines can run great expanses, with costs for transmission at $2 million per mile and distribution $150,000 to $500,000 per mile.

Given the expense of expanding the grid, utilities are realizing “it may be more cost-effective to manage the peak,” he said.

Most important, forward-thinking regulators, such as those in New York, are working on re-aligning incentives for utilities, so that they can achieve earnings on alternatives. Consolidated Edison’s Brooklyn Queens Demand Management program is one of the first and most highly publicized of such programs.

“You’ve heard lots people talk about performance-based mechanisms. They are starting to frame up what that means,” he said.

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Today utilities capture earnings through capital projects, but regulators are exploring ways to instead create incentives that are tied to improved system metrics.

“That’s huge. I think that is going to be one of the bigger game changers out there. Now pile on top all of the requirements around resiliency, and I think you have a perfect storm converging,” he said.

In short, costs are falling for microgrid components. Regulators are starting to incentivize utilities to build them as non-wires alternatives. And businesses and consumers are demanding them to keep the power flowing when the central grid fails.

Further, the recent round of North American hurricanes crystallized the notion of resiliency for many businesses and consumers, according to Staker. As the energy industry tries to put a value on resiliency, users increasingly find it to be priceless. “This summer has heightened everyone’s awareness,” he said. Nothing will do that more quickly than “climbing up 50 flights of stairs to deliver food and water to people.”

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.


  1. Solution for off-grid energy, efficiency sustainable, already have
    I sent the design, at the International Exhibition for People with Disabilities
    7 – 9 November 2017 , watch at this Conference

  2. 11 days ago
    • What is it about Humboldt County and Microgrids?
    Microgrid Knowledge
    Resilient power is crucial to the California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport, especially during a disaster, given that the community’s road …


    For the record, ACV has several enormous backup power generators. Each has a tank of jet “A”. The one that runs the terminal automatically in the event of a power failure is a two-room power station. The fire hall has it’s own, which can run the fuel pumps, etc. The last airport manager that was a pilot insisted even if we had to pay for it that all of these generators not run on natural gas, since this supply could be cut off in an earthquake. The County of Humboldt and the FAA also have generators to run the entire airfield, including but not limited to lighting and navigational aids. I know of no reason why these generators could not run diesel biofuels. I hope the so far these clueless folks that are proposing these arrays don’t continue to put the aircraft in harms way. They have had to move these arrays around the objections of the Humboldt County Aviation Advisory Committee. With 800 acres, you’d think they could have found a space other than ramming them against the main runway and it’s approach.

    If a jet skids off a runway, which Google alerts to weekly it seems, will the solar array be frangible?

    ACV has had 285 day per year of fog or low overcast, in which 10% of the sun’s energy gets through. I took an upper division alternative energy engineering class at HSU with a course grade of A, 100 out of 100 on the final (highest in the class). With 30 years of Cal-PERS safety retirement credit in the airport firefighter group as an airport service worker, I have seen first hand what salt air does to metal at ACV. It either oxidizes or rusts. ACV was considered to be the foggiest spot in the western hemisphere, third foggiest spot in the world. The sun always rises, but at ACV more often than not you only see it poke out for a moment between layers during the partial afternoon clearing—with 50% of possible sunshine.


    The airport was built by the United States Navy during World War II to test defogging systems.[6] It operated in support of the Naval Air Station Alameda as the Arcata Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS)[7] and was headquarters for the Eureka section of naval local defense forces for the 12th Naval District.[8]
    In December 1947 a Southwest Airways Douglas DC-3 flying into the airport made the world’s first blind landing by a scheduled commercial airliner using Ground-Controlled Approach (GCA) radar, Instrument Landing System (ILS) and Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation (FIDO)oil-burning units adjacent to the runway.[9] By the following year the airline had made 1,200 routine instrument landings at the often fog-shrouded airport.

    Below minimum visibilities of 0.25 runway visual range (RVR) often cancel flights at ACV, as the airline cannot get an air traffic control issued clearance from the FAA to do the approach due to fog—often when the dew point and temperature are the same. Vertical Visibility is a similar problem. Hence the solar array will be producing more oxidation and corrosion than electricity in the drizzle of salt air.

    typical fog and mist, dew point and temperature same at acv…
    17 Oct 8:53 am 49 49 100 N CALM 1.00 Mist OVC002 29.95 1022.9 30.19
    17 Oct 8:28 am 49 49 100 N CALM 0.50 Fog VV002 29.94 30.18
    17 Oct 7:53 am 48 48 100 N CALM 0.25 Fog VV002 29.93 1022.2 30.17
    17 Oct 7:40 am 48 48 100 N CALM 0.50 Fog VV002 29.93 30.17
    17 Oct 7:25 am 48 48 100 N CALM 0.25 Fog VV002 29.92 30.16
    17 Oct 7:16 am 49 49 100 N CALM 0.25 Fog VV002 29.92 30.16
    17 Oct 7:10 am 48 48 100 N CALM 0.50 Fog VV002 29.91 30.15
    17 Oct 7:02 am 49 49 100 N CALM 0.25 Fog VV002 29.92 30.16
    17 Oct 6:53 am 49 49 100 N CALM 0.50 Fog VV002 29.91 1021.6 30.15
    17 Oct 6:44 am 49 49 100 N CALM 0.25 Fog VV002 29.91 30.15
    17 Oct 6:29 am 49 49 100 N CALM 0.25 Fog VV002 29.90 30.14
    17 Oct 5:53 am 48 48 100 N CALM 0.50 Fog VV002 29.90 1021.2 30.14
    17 Oct 5:51 am 48 48 100 N CALM 0.50 Fog VV002 29.90 30.14
    17 Oct 5:28 am 47 47 100 N CALM 0.50 Fog VV002 29.89 30.13
    17 Oct 5:20 am 46 46 100 N CALM 0.50 Fog VV002 29.89 30.13
    17 Oct 5:10 am 46 46 100 N CALM 1.50 Mist OVC002