Microgrids, Microgrids, Solar, Storage

Microgrid Opportunity: What Stands in the Way for 2017?

Microgrid opportunity grew in 2016 and next year looks even better. But government policy isn’t keeping up with grassroots demand, said Randy Grass, vice president at POWER Engineers.

Grass, who manages the transmission and distribution (T&D) division for the global consulting engineering firm, described the policy roadblocks during a recent interview with Microgrid Knowledge.

“People recognize the benefit of microgrids,” he said. “The American people like to hear about things like this. It is a bit of a grassroots effort that is driving microgrids forward.”

But to policymakers, microgrids are relatively new. So, they’ve yet to frame regulations to make the most of the reliability, economic, and environmental benefits that today’s microgrids offer.

POWER Engineers’ electric utility clients show a lot of interest in developing microgrids. But many appear stuck because of lack of regulatory clarity about how to recover microgrid costs.

“It is sort of crazy,” Grass said. “A manufacturing facility happens to have this microgrid, and they are not able to put their power back on the system because they are not registered as a generator in the state of Texas.”

For POWER Engineers, a 40-year-old company with 2,100 employees in 45 offices in the U.S. and abroad, microgrids are an extension of work it has done for decades. The employee-owned company has focused on what Grass described as small grids for campuses and the military since almost the inception of the company. About five years ago, the company began turning attention to contemporary microgrids, which can island.

One of the company’s recent projects involved a relatively complex microgrid for the Mid-Atlantic headquarters of a large independent power company. The facility includes combined heat and power, solar, energy storage, standby and emergency generators and electric vehicle charging. POWER Engineers’ services included electrical model design and electrical studies.

The company worked on another, less traditional microgrid at an oil refinery in Salt Lake City. That project, which uses natural gas turbines, employs a power management system and controls to detect disruptions and island from the grid. The microgrid preserves critical plant processes, so that the refinery can keep operating if the grid goes down.

For 2017 and beyond, the company continues to look at microgrid opportunity across the U.S.

It will unfold, he added, but “it is going to be important for legislative and regulatory bodies to determine a business model that will allow utilities, developers and consumers to participate fairly in both the cost and the benefits of a microgrid installation. We are carefully watching several states for clues of how these rules will develop.”

This article was originally published by Microgrid Knowledge and was republished with permission.