The Curious Thing About a Community Microgrid…

Steve Pullins, Vice President, Energy Solutions

Communities have a lot of stakeholders, but often with common goals. Communities want to be safe, stable, prosperous, and neighborly. In recent years, we have added “sustainable” to those common goals for many communities. Now, that may mean different things to different stakeholders, but generally it means that the community wants to exist 100 years from now with many or all of those same common goals.

If one were to “create” a community with many stakeholders and common goals from scratch, the process would probably be messy. The complexity of gaining consensus on community goals requires diligence and patience.

The same is true for building an energy microgrid for community resilience. Here, I am using resilience as a first cousin to sustainable. Resilience in a community can mean different stakeholder objectives. Some may want life-sustaining services (pharmacy, oxygen, food) to be resilient for vulnerable neighbors in the face of major storms. Some may want critical public safety and health services to be resilient for the entire community in the face of downed power lines and debris-filled streets. Some may want important job-centered businesses to be resilient in the face of emergencies so that income in the community is minimally impacted.

To incorporate a diverse set of important community goals (i.e., “messy”), the microgrid will likely be messy as well. Messy means multiple distributed energy resources vice a single energy resource because a single resource can leave a community vulnerable to loss. Messy means distributing the energy resources across critical facilities because the community needs those services even on loss of the local neighborhood distribution grid. Messy means burying critical sections of the local neighborhood distribution grid because overhead lines are vulnerable to storms. Messy means actively managing all distributed energy resources and load interfaces with real-time controls, load forecasting, and resource dispatch scheduling.

So, for communities with multiple goals around resiliency and sustainability, we probably need to serve them with complex microgrids. Messy.

This is complex, but doable.

Originally published on LinkedIn

Is Your Microgrid Flexible?

Steve Pullins, Vice President, Energy Solutions

There are a lot of definitions of a microgrid floating in the industry, but we’re not too worried about a definition. We are more interested in its characteristics.

Is your microgrid flexible?

Does it handle multiple modes of operation? Does it operate under a variety of use cases? Does it provide multiple functions to the customer? Can your microgrid serve the host customer with electricity as well as heating and cooling? Can your microgrid serve not only the customer, but also work with the local distribution grid when needed to benefit the greater community? Can your microgrid adjust operations to improve economics, reliability, resiliency, or emissions?

If the character of your onsite generation is singular in function, then it doesn’t follow that it is a microgrid, because it doesn’t demonstrate the character of a microgrid.

If the character of your onsite generation is that it shuts down when the local distribution grid is lost, then it doesn’t meet the character test of a microgrid.

If the character of your onsite generation is that it operates solely (whether continuous or in emergency) for reliable operations, then it doesn’t meet the character test of a microgrid.

It could be that your onsite generation is just that…onsite generation. And, there is nothing wrong with that. But, if it doesn’t have the character trait of flexibility, then it is probably not a microgrid.

We often link the flexible character of a microgrid with the use cases it serves for the customer. There is a huge difference between serving one use case and two. Now consider that most microgrids (the flexible ones) are serving upwards of 7 or 8 use cases.

Instead of debating definition for a couple years, it might be a good idea to determine the key characteristics of a microgrid, like we did with the Principal Characteristics of a Smart Grid 10 years ago. That helped shape the direction of the Smart Grid movement, investments, and deployments. Plus, we didn’t take three years debating the definition of a Smart Grid before we set a course of action for the future.

I’m just sayin’…

Originally published on LinkedIn