Schneider Electric Sees Shifts in the Microgrid Market  

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Bear Creek Ski Resort improves economics of snow-making with a microgrid

Conference attendance reveals a lot about microgrid market trends. Just a few years ago federal agencies, municipalities and other big energy users dominated events. Utility attendance was scarce. But no more.

Utilities have arrived. That is one of the big shifts that Schneider Electric identified in a recent executive interview with

“We’re seeing utilities much more significantly participate in the dialogue today than just a few years ago,” said Mark Liston, vice president for energy solutions at Schneider.

Schneider is positioned to recognize such microgrid trends. The energy management giant entered the microgrid market early, and now its technology is installed in hundreds of projects. The last six months, in particular, marked high visibility milestones for Schneider. The company introduced a new advanced microgrid controller and played a key role in the development of the one-of-a-kind microgrid unveiled by Texas utility Oncor.

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What attracts utilities?

When projects are developed, it’s rarely for one reason. Instead, there is “a canvas” of motivators, Liston said.

But he sees three main drivers. Utilities — and others — pursue microgrids largely to: 1) Optimize efficiency and economics; 2) Ensure electric reliability and availability, especially during power disruptions from natural disasters and storms; 3) Improve sustainability by reducing carbon dioxide emissions or adding more renewable generation

A few years ago, electric reliability and resiliency were the dominant drivers, especially in the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Government agencies, cities and towns were attracted by a microgrid’s ability to island from the main grid during periods of grid disruption. That’s starting to change.

“The focus was islanding, islanding, islanding. It created this perception of a win/lose scenario between an end user, client and utility. I think that dialogue has shifted quite a bit.  There is more recognition of a microgird first and foremost optimizing multiple sources of generation to interconnected loads,” Liston said.

A microgrid’s ability to align utility generation and load creates system flexibility to meet peak load requirements. And it can spare utilities from the necessity of investing in large, central resources, he said.

Improving economics

While keeping the lights on is still a big motivator, Schneider customers are increasingly interested in the microgrid’s ability to create efficiencies and improve grid economics, added Jeff Worley, manager for engineered solutions at Schneider.

“They may want to reduce the fluctuation in their energy costs because of changes in pricing or their ability to shift load to time-of-day or to shave peaks,” Worley said.

The Bear Creek Mountain Resort and Conference Center in Pennsylvania offers an example of a microgrid that was designed to improve economics. The ski resort is at the end of a utility power line, so its electric supply from the grid is limited. This created a problem when the facility decided to expand and add snow machines. The resort faced steep financial penalties for use of peak power.  The microgrid now allows it to shed and shift load, creating significant cost savings.  (See case study.)

Regional and national play

Today’s microgrid market presents a certain “regional bias” with projects developing more quickly where grid problems exist that microgrids can help solve, Liston said

“In the Eastern region, California, West Coast, and Texas — where the grid experiences peak load stress, certainly peak demand in the summer time — you are finding that there are lot more regional incentives and acceleration of microgrid investments,” he said.

That’s not to say that microgrids are a purely regional play; they are being developed throughout the U.S — just more slowly or for different reasons in areas that are capacity rich. Indeed, campus-style installations can be found nationwide, Liston added.

This is Part 1 of 2 of the Schneider Electric executive interview.


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Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of 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.


  1. […] This is Part 2 of a two-part Schneider Electric executive interview. See Part 1 here. […]

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