Three big microgrid reveals from 2021 to consider

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Surprise! This is not an article about wildfires, storms and other grid calamities that drove the microgrid market in 2021. They did. But you already know that. So let’s talk about the less obvious but intriguing microgrid trends and indicators the year revealed.

microgrid trends 2021

By SmekiNata/Shutterstock.com

1

“You cannot do zero carbon without microgrids.”

 

Yokogawa Electric may not be a company you immediately associate with microgrids, and that’s one of the reasons its acquisition of California-based PXiSE Energy Solutions is thought-provoking.

An international conglomerate based in Tokyo, Yokogawa is an engineering and software company that does a lot of work in big energy — oil, gas and power plants — as well as pharmaceuticals, materials, chemicals and food. The company announced its acquisition of PXiSE from Sempra Energy and Mitsu on Dec. 1. 

With the purchase, Yokogawa is now making microgrids one of its key initiatives, according to an investor presentation.

In a conversation with Microgrid Knowledge, Patrick Lee, PXiSE CEO, listed several business synergies between PXiSE and Yokogawa that show why the acquisition makes sense. But most interesting was Lee’s description of the “hidden message” the deal reveals about microgrids.

Lee said it all comes down to the ultimate reason for creating the PXiSE microgrid platform, which was the realization that to achieve zero carbon electricity, it’s necessary to solve the renewable integration challenge. That is, how do you quickly shift to other resources when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining? Microgrids can fill this role, particularly when they employ sophisticated forecasting and high speed control platforms and software, which is what PXiSE developed.

“Ultimately, we’re enabling faster adoption of renewables toward zero carbon or toward 100% renewable,” Lee said.

Yokogawa, which has a 2021-2030 plan to accelerate the clean energy transformation, came to a similar realization about the need to solve the renewable intermittency problem. 

“That alignment really is one of the key reasons that they’re interested in PXiSE — beyond just technology and market synergies,” Lee said. 

Achieving zero carbon is not the value proposition the world usually associates with microgrids. Resilience and reliability are. Yet, as Lee pointed out, most microgrids spend only a small portion of their time keeping the lights on because of a power outage. Microgrids are usually connected to the grid and capable of providing it with services, such as balancing renewable energy.

In Lee’s view, microgrids are an essential building block for a 100% renewable grid.

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“I can almost guarantee you, you cannot do zero carbon without microgrids,” Lee said. “It’s really not even a choice.”

Interested in diving more into the topic of microgrids and carbon reduction? That’s the main theme of Microgrid 2022: Microgrids as Climate Heroes. Tickets are now available.

 

2. 

Social distance from the grid?

 

A strong case exists for microgrids to connect to the grid — the microgrid and grid can engage in a symbiotic relationship. Each can gain financial and operational strength and the world gets cleaner power. But sometimes a grid connection isn’t possible because the microgrid is built to serve a remote region or island where there is no grid. 

Other times, however, a grid connection is possible but not worth the hassle, at least initially. At Microgrid California, we learned that some microgrid owners are choosing to operate independently of the grid because it takes too much time to win interconnection approvals from the utility. In places such as wildfire-prone California, businesses want to get their microgrids built now rather than later.

To learn more about this phenomenon, we invite you to watch two panel discussions from Microgrid California.

microgrid trends 2021

Panel discussing microgrids and agriculture at Microgrid California

Microgrids for Agriculture/Food Industry 

California produces over one-third of US vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. So anything that gets in the way of its ability to grow, harvest, produce and distribute food creates repercussions far beyond its borders — making reliable energy paramount for agriculture. This panel offers examples of successful microgrids used in the food industry and looks at how to make it easier for agriculture to adopt them more widely.

Moderated by A.J. Perkins, president of Instant ON, and the panelists are:

  • Brian Brogan, sales director, GreenStruxure.
  • John Larrea, director, governmental affairs, California League of Food Producers.
  • Rob Fox, vice president of  business development, Endurant Energy.
  • Ari Kashani, CEO and founder, Bluehouse Greenhouse.
  • Brian Curtis, CEO, Concentric Power.
  • Dennis Donohue, director, Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology.

Interactive Leadership Session

Keying in on discussions of the day, panelists and audience members discuss takeaways and questions from Microgrid California.

Moderated by Ken Horne, director of portfolio operations at Spring Lane Capital and panelists included:

  • Eric Dupont, chief commercial officer, PowerSecure.
  • Scott Manson, technology director, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories.
  • Erik Svanholm, vice president, non-wires alternatives, S&C Electric.
  • Elisa Wood, editor-in-chief, Microgrid Knowledge.

Sometimes microgrid owners want to remain off-grid for financial reasons. Such is the case for a microgrid at a New York City hotel. The story isn’t from 2021, but still worth revisiting if you’re exploring the idea of operating your microgrid independently even where a robust grid exists.

 

3.

Are microgrids and EVs becoming besties?

 

Microgrid insiders have been pointing to electrification as an up-and-coming driver for microgrid development. And indeed this year we saw their assertion increasingly realized.

What’s clear is that the electrification/microgrid combination is getting the juices flowing among innovators, who are coming up with creative pairings for the two technologies. Their efforts are far more ambitious and creative than the mere inclusion of a few chargers within a microgrid.

One example is the recently announced product by Australian company Tritium. Called PKM150, the fast charger includes a direct current (DC) microgrid, which the company says is unique to its architecture. It transmits power across the system at 950 volts DC rather than 400 volts alternating current. The design reduces the linear dimension of cabling by half. Tritium said this can lead to tens of thousands of dollars in savings for small charging sites and hundreds of thousands of dollars for large charging sites.

Also interesting, the PKM150 system is built in a modular fashion, as described in an article by Microgrid Knowledge’s Lisa Cohn. Customers can choose 50 kW, 100 kW or 150 kW of station power to meet their business needs. The modular construction of these chargers makes them faster and easier to service and build compared to non-modular systems, according to Tritium. 

EVs as microgrids

In White Plains, New York, a school district is using electric school buses as a kind of mobile microgrid. The five-bus EV fleet provided by Lion Electric last year began providing power to local utility Con Edison, which was the first time in the state that buses fed power into a utility grid.

The buses charge and discharge at a depot in North White Plains. They plug into a charger when demand for power from Con Edison is low and reverse the flow into the grid when the buses aren’t taking kids to and from school. 

A new partnership between electric mobility company Revel, clean energy developer NineDot Energy and vehicle-to-grid company Fermata Energy wants to take the mobile microgrid idea to new levels with a pilot program in Brooklyn, New York. Three Nissan Leaf EVs will provide power to Con Edison. Revel has a long-term goal of using its fleet of electric ride-sharing vehicles — all Tesla EVs — to support the grid in New York City and elsewhere, said Paul Suhey, co-founder of Revel. 

Proterra

Earlier this year, Proterra delivered its 25th ZX5 battery-electric transit bus to LADOT in support of the agency’s transition to a fully electric fleet. Photo courtesy of Proterra

Fleets plus microgrids

We’re all beginning to see the emergence of more businesses and institutions choosing to power their EV fleets with microgrids, a phenomenon likely to accelerate, especially among operations situated in urban areas that are electrically congested or remote areas with insufficient transmission. 

The Santa Clara, California, Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) plans to build a microgrid with charging infrastructure to upgrade and fuel its fleet of battery-powered electric buses. As Lyn Corum reported for Microgrid Knowledge, the Northern California project is part of the VTA’s effort to transform its fleet to 100% zero emissions by 2036 — before a state requirement takes effect for all public transit agencies to transition to 100% zero emissions by 2040. 

VTA formed a partnership with Scale Microgrid Solutions, Proterra and Schneider Electric to build a 1.5-MW solar energy system at its 10-acre Cerone Yard with a 1-MW/4-MWh stationary battery energy storage system. 

Meanwhile, Montgomery County, Maryland, plans to construct a 5.6-MW microgrid with distributed energy generation, energy storage and over 2 MW of charging capacity at its Brookville Smart Energy Bus Depot outside of Washington, D.C.

Microgrid Knowledge writer Sharon Bennett reported that AlphaStruxure, a joint venture between Schneider Electric and the Carlyle Group, will design, build and deliver the project, using an energy-as-a-service model that doesn’t require the county to make upfront payments. 

AlphaStruxure will implement a strategy to transition the on-site gas generation to carbon-neutral sources after operation begins, allowing the microgrid to run on 100% renewable energy in alignment with the county’s goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2035. 

To learn more about microgrids and EVs, check out Microgrid Knowledge’s electric vehicle channel

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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 two 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.

Comments

  1. I’ve always looked at the current electric grid as an upside-down pyramid. Centralized generation resources with power corridors transmitting generated energy to end user switching stations to distribute and regulate voltage for commercial, industrial and residential energy use.

    Set the pyramid as it should be and one gains a robust infrastructure that can be aggregated into the larger grid that now can be used to store and shuttle energy from one load center to another across the entire U.S.. Those copper wires will pass energy bi-directionally to be used or shuttled to regional energy storage systems for later dispatch or use. It’s well past time to change the centralized uni-directional grid to an aggregate bi-directional grid that can react to grid load demands in milliseconds to seconds instead of having a fueled generation resource burning fuel in reserve standby mode, that can take from anywhere from minutes to hours depending on the technology used.

    • Comments on bi-directional and milliseconds. Load is engineered to flow from high to low voltage for conductor rating considerations. A typical 230/115kV Load Tap Changer/LTC will use a 115kV potential device for reference voltage for the Beckwith controller to boost or buck lowside voltage. If you reverse the power flow from 115kv to the 230kV bus without placing the LTC in manual the 115kV reference voltage will step the LTC in the opposite direction and lower 230kV system voltage. To compensate a separate Programmable Logic Controller scheme would be tailored at each substation LTC with connections to POT DEVs on both sides for switching reference voltage, possibly also using area load from a separate PC system. You need to consider the implications to the protective relay packages before you take on omni-directional power. Typically, on parallel or looped transmission banks the protection engineers have installed a SEL 501 relay with settings to trip on a lower trip setting for reverse power from the 115kV to 230kV system to prevent backfeeding. In transmission connections to CoGens you’ll have powerline carrier, static wire fiber-optic differential or phoneline transfer trip, so that when the utility’s equipment sense a ground or phase-to-phase fault a pilot trip signal is sent to the CoGen to protect their generator from smoking on instantaneous 10k amp faults. On Distribution radials with CoGens, protection is a little easier by just adding a Negative Sequence relay to the Ground and OC relay package on the feeder. However, you do get concerns again on polarity and direction of flow for field regulators that also have reference POT Devs when you start reversing power flow on distribution circuits. And those POT Devs also keep the line recloser, CAPs, and SCADA switches batteries charged, so you want the POT DEV located on the substation source side traditionally.
      Any CoGen under 10MW does not have to correct power factor and tend to operate at unity. If you want bottom up generation being the backbone for the system then you need larger than 10MW CoGens that can follow a voltage schedule and push VARS into the system for large motor loads. Reliance on a bunch of small units hunting on their voltage schedules and even worse a false confidence that those small units can Blackstart a large fossil or nuke plant is a recipe for failure, not to mention a cluster …. for the CAISO to herd all the cats. WECC and CAISO want big robust units to blackstart a system that have huge fault duty and stout ground grids as they energize unpatrolled transmission lines that have been deenergized for hours. If you make a bad parallel or bad test into phase-to-phase or 3-phase faults you can damage your tie breaker and then you don’t have a connection point anymore. That’s why is it is super dicey to parallel with a CoGen after the CoGen has been in island mode. The utility has zero problem with the CoGen paralleling with the grid. If the CoGen makes a bad parallel then the grid survives and the wear and tear is on the CoGen’s circuit breaker. But, if the utility’s breaker or line recloser is open, if the utility makes a bad parallel with an out of sync generator due to some contractor swapping phases during separation, then the utility’s breaker could be damaged and they’ve damaged the connection point. The utility will always opt for the CoGen to drop and pickup after the utility has energized up to the CoGen’s breaker.
      As for milliseconds: If the system were just CAP banks and tertiary reactors for voltage control, changes can and do happen in a few seconds from synchrophasors relay packages . But, unfortunately most 60kv to 230kV transformers have mechanical LTCs that are slow to step voltage and so you are looking a couple of minutes for voltages to stabilize.

  2. After all of that electro mechanical techno speak, there are devices that can be used in large energy storage facilities that are grid forming, like GEs grid forming inverters PV LV5 that have been used to create a black start in old fueled generation facilities. Synchro phasers aside, there are 18 pulse inverters that can cancel oscillations and noise on the grid in milliseconds. The ability to step up or step down voltages in a multi-pulse drive can be done in milliseconds also.