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Projects, challenges and opportunities: Exploring potential with SEPA’s Microgrid Working Group

Members of the SEPA Microgrid Working Group are taking innovation to the grid edge.  Using information, communications and control systems, members are designing and deploying “smart” microgrids to harness the capabilities of distributed energy resources (solar PV, energy storage, demand response, electric vehicles, energy efficiency, etc.) to achieve an array of public policy objectives.

Microgrids can make community critical infrastructure more resilient to withstand natural and manmade disasters, support sustainable economic development, serve as a platform for transactive energy and spur job creation.

The following two projects illustrate how members are exploring the potential of microgrids within a rapidly changing energy landscape.  These projects being undertaken by GE Grid Solutions and Avista Utilities reflect how technology, policy and market drivers together are motivating new functions and purposes for microgrids, with significance for shaping both our power system and community energy infrastructure.


Active Microgrid Projects

Philadelphia Navy Yard Community Microgrid

WHAT:  GE Grid Solutions is part of an Energy Team working with the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) and PECO to design and deploy advanced microgrid technologies that are converting Philadelphia’s former shipyard into a vibrant commercial hub, while accelerating the achievement of the Navy Yard’s reliability, economic growth and environmental goals.

WHERE:  The Philadelphia Navy Yard is a 1,200 acre waterfront campus with 7.5 million square feet of real estate and home to more than 12,000 employees and 152 companies in the office, industrial, manufacturing and research and development sectors.  This partnership combined “Energy Master Planning” with the Navy Yard’s sustainable land use development planning process to produce a long-term strategy for evolving cost-effective, integrated energy solutions to meet the campus’ growing electric capacity needs overtime.  As a foundational step, Open System Architecture has been designed to interface the campus’ Microgrid Network Operation Center, including its Supervisory Microgrid Controller, with PECO’s substations, two Navy Yard microgrids and PJM market opportunities.

WHY:  Advanced communications, control and metering infrastructure will enhance energy management and the optimization of the microgrid cells’ operations and components, allowing these systems to generate, manage, distribute and use electricity more intelligently and effectively.   This multi-user, microgrid-based power delivery system will ensure optimal use of demand and supply assets (onsite community solar, fuel cell and natural gas generation, energy storage, demand response, and energy efficiency) by providing coordinated and controlled management of these assets and integrating these resources with external supplies.

This project also features resource and load profiling and forecasting; load prioritization as critical or non-critical; and real time data acquisition and monitoring of electrical and physical signals.  The system is designed to minimize the effects of outages, equipped for fast response to network disturbances through the automatic connection and disconnection of system components.  The system can operate in both grid-connected or island-mode.  The microgrid system can also provide energy, ancillary and capacity services to the bulk power system.


Urbanova Micro-Transactive Grid

WHAT: In support of their “shared energy economy” vision, Avista will be constructing a micro-transactive grid at Urbanova, in the state of Washington.  Avista will demonstrate how distributed energy resources can benefit consumers/prosumers, as well as the distribution system, by orchestrating the operation of groups of assets based on system conditions and economic signals, and providing a resiliency product during grid outages. The design will enable real-time, hierarchical control and optimization of dynamic sets of distributed and intermittent renewable energy resources.

WHERE:  This microgrid is being designed for deployment at Spokane’s University District, home of Urbanova which is a living laboratory founded by Avista and five partners to design cities for the future.  The microgrid is one of the initial Urbanova projects that will integrate and optimize energy storage, rooftop solar and building energy management systems.

WHY:  In addition to providing a unique solution to the technical challenges of distributed asset coordination and control, this shared energy economy pilot will seek to determine the locational and temporal value of the various services provided by the microgrid.  “Smart” microgrids can enable the sharing and exchange of energy services between end-users/microgrids and the grid, as well as peer to peer.  This sharing economy model will provide customer engagement and benefits by employing a platform approach to distribution systems. This intelligent and flexible grid infrastructure will enable grid modernization, innovation, retail market integration and transactive interaction.


Three challenges facing microgrids

While these projects reflect a new value proposition for microgrids, these and other microgrid applications face many challenges, including the need for regulatory reform, technical standards and market changes that the Microgrid Working Group is addressing.

Regulatory Reforms:  Capturing the benefits of smart microgrids for power systems and communities will necessitate changes in the rules that govern our electricity sector.  The Microgrid Working Group is addressing the types of reforms needed to align utility financial interests with new customer and societal demands. Discussions have focused on incentives that would allow utilities to perform more efficiently and reliably at least cost, taking advantage of the cost-saving opportunities and the value that is generated by the integrated energy solutions that microgrids provide.

In the context of SEPA’s 51st State Initiative, the Microgrid Working Group is evaluating new tools for utility compensation, rate design, dynamic pricing and performance metrics to enhance both the efficiencies and reliability of our power system, as well as to incentivize innovation. A new “policy eco-system” will be needed to harness the capabilities of advanced microgrids within an integrated grid and community energy systems.  This “policy eco-system” must address the definition of microgrids, smart architectural design, new cost-benefit valuation methods and tools, customer engagement and a new regulatory and social compact.  Similarly, the Microgrid Working Group is identifying and discussing the uncertainties, barriers and risks surrounding fundamental change, whether of a technical, economic, regulatory or institutional nature.

Technical Standards:  Development of new standards is critical to the replication and scaling of microgrid applications.  These standards would govern protocols relating to advanced protection coordination, multi-layer/device communications and controls, microgrid to grid interactions and grid resynchronization, and microgrid to microgrid interaction.  Through member briefings and presentations by the U.S. Department of Energy and IEEE standards development leaders, the Microgrid Working Group has been tracking the development of standards and testing procedures for Microgrid Controllers (IEEE P2030.7, “Standard for the Specifications of Microgrid Controllers” and P2030.8 “Testing Procedures”).

The Microgrid Working Group also has been learning about the Open Field Message Bus (OpenFMB) that SEPA has been supporting. OpenFMB brings the Internet of Things (IoT) and advanced interoperability to the power grid.  OpenFMB provides a framework for distributed nodes interacting with each other through loosely-coupled, peer to peer messaging for field devices and systems at the grid edge.

Power Markets:  Within a future energy marketplace of proliferating distributed resources, there will be an increasing need for well-designed markets to coordinate and manage decision-making across myriad points of power injection and withdrawal in order to support both efficient energy use and investment. In this regard, the Microgrid Working Group has undertaken a number of webinars to discuss changes that power markets are shouldering to tap into new resources to provide the system with the resource flexibility necessary for renewable integration. A recent webinar addressed FERC’s proposed changes to recognize the multi-function nature of energy storage as a market resource and to increase access to smaller DER by allowing DER aggregators to participate directly in wholesale markets.  The Microgrid Working Group also is examining the need for more proactive management by distribution utilities to respond to dynamically changing market conditions and to manage customer-side resources. The Microgrid Working Group has discussed institutionalizing Distribution System Operators (DSOs), establishing distribution system platforms to facilitate the delivery of new products and services, and building more transactive energy markets. A key challenge will be aligning the evolution of wholesale and retail market level changes.


Smart Energy Microgrid MarketPlace at Solar Power International

If you are interested in learning about these microgrid applications and more, as part of North America Smart Energy Week at the 2017 Solar Power International conference, the EMerge Alliance will be facilitating the demonstration of “live” advanced microgrids right on the exhibit floor. In addition, SEPA will be conducting an all-day Microgrid Workshop on Sunday, Sept. 10 which includes an EMerge hosted pre-show visit to the microgrid area on the exhibit floor.

The microgrid demonstration, part of this year’s expanded scope of the show and called the Smart Energy Micogrid Marketplace, includes multiple fully functioning microgrids. Three such microgrids use on-site solar generation in combination with utility supplied power, energy storage and system management, and distribution of both ac and dc power to a portion of the show floor. The microgrids will work independently, together, and in both islanded and grid connected modes. Some of the loads will further demonstrate the microgrid integration with smart home and building IoT concepts.

This demonstration will project an “Enernet” vision with a participatory electric infrastructure of distributed microgrids, interconnected in a real time transactional mesh network of electric power prosumers. Within this vast electrical power network, microgrids would be linked in successive scalable layers that interoperate using a common set of electrical and communications standards. This exhibition will explain and demonstrate the technologies that can enable microgrids to perform as novel market actors, creating value for utilities, customers, communities and society alike.

The Microgrid Working Group is comprised of interesting and exciting energy professionals. We hope you can join us at Solar Power International and learn more about joining our working group.

Larisa Dobriansky is the Chief Business & Policy Innovation Officer for General MicroGrids and the Chair of SEPA’s Microgrid Working Group. She can be reached at [email protected].