February 25, 2021 By Sharon Bennett
The advancement of microgrids is part of a larger trend bringing more digitization, decentralization and decarbonization to the power industry. Technology is moving faster, and today’s customers may select power from cleaner sources, generate it on their rooftop, use it more easily with connected Wi-Fi options and save money while connecting these services.
COVID-19 speeds up digitization
Society and the world’s workforce continue to become more digitized. COVID-19 suddenly pushed working professionals out of their offices in 2020. Worldwide, millions became home-based workers. Zoom took off in popularity and growth. Home internet connections became priceless. There is no longer a difference between the value of home and office power. Wi-Fi connection everywhere has become a must. Digitization is essential to a degree consumers never realized previously.
Peter Herweck, executive vice president, industrial automation at Schneider Electric, spoke at the recent International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Operations Management (IEOM 2021).
“Today’s industrial innovation is driven by powerful software and data analytics that increase both productivity and sustainability. With net zero factories now possible due to increased computational power and connectivity, as well as advanced digital supply chains, ecology and progress are no longer at the opposing ends of the environmental spectrum,” he said.
Decentralization continues with distributed energy
The electric power industry is well on its way to decentralization through the rise of distributed energy services. Thanks to more digitization, it may be less expensive to install and operate on-site power generation and microgrids than it is to connect to and maintain access to a centralized energy grid. In both developed and developing regions, decentralized distributed power generation and energy production provide a range of benefits, such as improved access, resilience and efficiency.
According to Fortune Business Insights’ “2021 Distributed Energy Trends” report, the gradual shift to distributed energy resources from centralized energy promotes its growth. The decrease in the cost of energy storage and solar photovoltaics will continue to drive the market.
Various regulations and the rise in the number of cybersecurity issues related to the energy sector may hinder the market. However, the surge in microgrid and smart grid deployment should create lucrative growth opportunities for the decentralized energy market in the coming year.
In early February, at the US Energy Association’s 17th Annual State of the Energy Industry Forum, Arshad Mansoor, president and CEO of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), said that all sides must come together immediately to speed the pace of economy-wide decarbonization.
While the electric sector has become 33% cleaner over the past 15 years, Mansoor noted, the overall economy’s removal of CO2 emissions has progressed much more slowly during the same period.
That’s not an acceptable scenario, according to Mansoor. “If we have the same path of acceleration, it’s going to take 75 years. Clearly, we want to accelerate,” he said.
EPRI launched a multiyear project with the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) and other anchor companies to develop and demonstrate technologies to enable a low-carbon future. Called the Low-Carbon Resources Initiative (LCRI), EPRI and its anchor sponsors said that the initiative represents a crucial step toward achieving decarbonization goals over the next 30 years.
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Mansoor emphasized that before this decade is over, the energy industry must offer other sets of molecules as clean energy carriers as a vital part of a future where we have multiple options to get to net-zero emissions reliably and affordably.
For example, a recent Microgrid Knowledge article noted that Hydrogen Forward is a group formed to advocate for a US national hydrogen strategy. The organization’s founding members are Air Liquide, Anglo American, Bloom Energy, CF Industries, Chart Industries, Cummins, Hyundai, Linde, McDermott, Shell and Toyota.
“We must embrace hydrogen if we are to meet our ambitious decarbonization goals,” said KR Sridhar, CEO of Bloom Energy. “Hydrogen will enable the world to harness our abundant and affordable renewable energy and make it dependable and resilient to meet the needs of our digital world.”
Learn more about the trend toward digitization, decentralization and decarbonization. Join us at Microgrid 2021: The World Awakens to Microgrids. Registration is free for the virtual event, but limited, so we encourage you to act soon.
Serendipity — and Generous Donors — Helped the Footprint Project Bring Solar to Desperate Texans
It was fortuitous that Oscar Ruiz arrived in Texas on February 19. He had originally intended the trip for another reason, but he quickly became the point person for an on-the-ground mission to build emergency clean energy systems for desperate Texans. Millions had lost power and water as a result of an historic deep freeze.
Ruiz is the solar and logistical lead for Footprint Project, an organization that provides emergency clean energy — microgrids, solar and energy storage — to communities in crisis. So he is accustomed to thinking on his feet.
“The limitation is usually finding equipment,” said Ruiz, who is from Puerto Rico and is also executive director of Sail Relief Team, which brings disaster relief to remote and underserved communities. “If we can get people to help, we can get the solar generators out the door. It’s like, ‘Let’s make the project happen.’ ”
Fortunately, Will Heegaard, operations director at Footprint Project, and his associates had been on top of it, making calls to potential equipment donors as soon as it was clear the storm was coming. A shoestring operation, Footprint Project relies on donations and volunteers.
Equipment donations came from SimpliPhi Power, CED Greentech, Sol-Ark Solar and New Use Energy.
Need for remote power
One of the organizations happy to receive the generators was Fayette County. Craig Moreau, a paramedic and chief of emergency management and homeland security for the county, said he’s passionate about replacing emergency power with safer alternatives because he has seen patients maimed and killed by fossil fuel generators.
“After the winter storm, there was a need for remote power to help citizens dealing with a variety of problems. The [Footprint Project] team sent down a solar generator to help us, and I am very grateful. We hope that when the next inevitable disaster strikes we will have more resources like this to deploy to citizens in need,” Moreau said.
Representatives for the companies that donated the equipment were happy to lend a helping hand.
“We work with the Footprint Project because they dedicate their resources to helping people and communities recover from some of the worst climatic catastrophes in the US, when people are vulnerable and without access to reliable power,” said Catherine Von Burg, CEO and president of SimpliPhi Power, which donated 10 of its 3.8-kWh batteries.
The opportunity to help people is also the reason New Use Energy (NUE) donates equipment. “Aside from the obvious environmental and logistical advantages, the human impact of simply using portable solar generators over gasoline generators cannot be more profound. This is what really excites me, personally, about the niche NUE is addressing. We are truly making affordable, portable clean energy accessible when it is needed,” said Stacy Wilde, chief corporate social responsibility officer for NUE.
Emergency clean energy suitcases and trailers
In addition to the batteries, the solar generators included 12 kW of solar. Some were mounted on trailers; others were packaged in “solar suitcases,” basically suitcases that contained the components.
To date, Footprint Project has assembled six portable solar generators in Texas, two of which are on trailers. The generators power communications sites. These are important to emergency response efforts, which can be hampered by fuel logistics challenges, said Heegaard, a former paramedic.
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“If your radios don’t work, you can’t do anything,” he said.
Two of the generators are helping power communications trailers that support vaccination sites, Ruiz added.
The equipment will remain in Texas as insurance against power outages. Footprint Project, which owns much of the gear, can monitor some of the larger systems remotely.
An energy recovery strike force
Footprint Project is increasingly becoming a presence during humanitarian disasters. The team made it to Iowa within two hours after a derecho, a severe wind storm, left 200,000 people without power last summer. Following the March 2020 tornados in Nashville, the team could be found providing clean energy for community donation and distribution centers. They energized an emergency medical clinic on the US/Mexican border to help asylum seekers during the pandemic. Their volunteers were also among the first to respond to Puerto Rico’s earthquake in January 2020, bringing portable solar generators to the epicenter.
The organization’s rapid response usually begins with the team monitoring weather and the news, searching for humanitarian disasters.
“When there’s a disaster, a power outage, we start keeping tabs immediately and reach out to our partner organizations to find out what they are planning on doing,” said Heegaard. The team forges connections through disaster networks. In the Texas case, Footprint Project contacted the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center. Heegaard and his associates call these organizations to find out who is helping out and where.
“One of the biggest challenges for disasters is coordination: How to get resources in, where should they go, where should they land,” he said.
In Texas, when it became clear the weather was taking a turn for the worse, the Footprint Project program administrator called every solar company in the Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio regions searching for donations of solar or battery systems. “We asked what they had in warehouses, asked for donations and rentals or turnkey systems we could borrow,” said Heegaard. They even looked for do-it-yourself trailersthat people stored in their garages. These trailers can be used to transport the generators.
At first, it was unclear how long the power outage would last. But once it became evident that the power would be out for more than 24 hours, the team decided to mount a solar rapid response.
Ruiz’s coincidentaltrip to Texas helped expedite that response and get help where it was needed as quickly as possible.
“A lot of this is serendipitous,” said Heegaard. “We couldn’t have done this so rapidly without having Oscar scheduled to fly. We would have had to drive. It was luck.”
Build back greener
Footprint Project’s work continues, with the team searching for any and all opportunities to “build back greener” after wildfires, hurricanes, floods, storms or other disasters.
“We jump at every single opportunity to mobilize solar generator resources during a disaster to support long term recovery and be available for the next one in that region,” Heegaard said.
Learn about microgrids being built to supply power following disasters. Join us in May for “Microgrids as Reliability Heroes,” a special session during Microgrid 2021, a virtual conference produced by Microgrid Knowledge. Participation is free if you register in advance.