New Power Network Protects Against Outages

Northern Power Systems will engineer, build, and operate a custom-designed, utility-connected energy generation, storage and distribution network within the area known as Mad River Park in Waitsfield, Vermont.

Waitsfield, Vermont – August 19, 2003 [] Northern Power Systems calls its MicroGrid power network, “a first of its kind.” MicroGrid will operate in parallel with the bulk utility generation and distribution system and, according to Northern Power Systems, will provide dramatically increased power quality and reliability to residences and businesses (including the company’s newly constructed headquarters facility) located in the park. The company says that MicroGrid is a next-generation power network architecture and a natural evolution of Northern Power System’s ongoing work in on-site power systems that incorporate combined heat and power (CHP) and deliver critical load support for individual customers. Northern Power says MicroGrid power networks represent a practical new strategy to ensure continuous power, providing security and protection regardless of utility outages and other electrical grid anomalies. The company says that MicroGrid a fundamental power architecture; and the power networks have wide application at many levels in the energy market, from commercial and industrial complexes and residential developments, to universities and medical campuses, and even substation scale systems. The project was undertaken with the support of the Vermont Department of Public Service (DPS), the United States Department of Energy (DOE), and the Washington Electric Cooperative (WEC). WEC is a rural electric cooperative, which serves 9,700 mostly residential members in 41 Vermont towns. WEC serves a dispersed market whose density averages seven utility meters per mile, typically in the hill areas away from main roads. The Co-op has a system historic peak demand of 14 megawatts. The Mad River Park MicroGrid project will serve as a fully operational demonstration of the capability and benefits of clustering tightly integrated, small-scale generation, storage, and distribution technologies including engines, microturbines, wind turbines and photovoltaic panels. The system will feature multiple generation and storage devices, and will be connected to five commercial and industrial facilities, and up to 12 residences within the MicroGrid power network service area. “This first-of-its-kind project will highlight, in a real-world setting, the vast potential for networked, distributed generation to cut energy costs and accelerate the use of clean, renewable energy,” said Dan Reicher, executive vice president of Northern Power Systems and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy. “In a larger sense, the MicroGrid concept represents a tangible distributed generation solution to the serious effects of widespread power outages and recurring reliability problems in the U.S. electric grid.” In addition to providing power to WEC’s Mad River Park customers, the power network will achieve several important, larger objectives. Northern Power Systems says it will create economic models for evaluating the feasibility and merits of such projects at specific locations and advance the technical and institutional know-how necessary for the development and deployment of additional utility or customer-initiated MicroGrid networks in the United States. The Mad River Park network will also serve as a demonstration center and test bed to verify equipment specifications and ratings under real load conditions. With a particular focus on emerging and renewable technologies, it will dramatically underscore why networked systems facilitate the use of distributed, sustainable energy. Last, the Mad River Park MicroGrid power network will provide a blueprint of how these technologies working together can deliver higher generating efficiencies and reduce overall environmental impact, according to Northern Power Systems. A MicroGrid power network is defined as two or more distributed generation assets configured in a network and capable of operating either in parallel with, or independent from, a larger electric grid, while providing continuous power to one or more end users. The assets may be combinations of power generation and energy storage devices, depending on the requirements of a specific application. “Analogous to today’s ubiquitous distributed computing environments, the MicroGrid power network is a natural evolution and extension of distributed generation applications in situations where power users need reliability at levels higher than what is available from the transmission and distribution system,” stated Northern Power Systems. The Mad River Park system will use propane-fueled reciprocating engines and microturbines, a photovoltaic (PV) array, and a small wind turbine. It will be programmable to operate in several distinct modes, ranging from total isolation from WEC’s system during the occurrence of specified power events (such as voltage sags, spikes or transients that cause power to deviate from utility or customer-defined parameters) to grid-following mode. Power coming from the local WEC substation will be monitored via a microprocessor-enabled protective relay, which will detect the occurrence of scheduled or unscheduled power events and enable the system to “island” the park from WEC’s system during such occurrences via a fast switch, thereby providing a seamless and uninterrupted delivery of power. Consisting of a number of on-site power generation assets, the Mad River system will initially generate an aggregate capacity of approximately 350 kW of electric power. In later phases, emerging technologies such as fuel cells, Stirling engines and flywheels will be examined and may eventually be incorporated into the network. Located on the network side of the isolation relay, these generation assets will incorporate combined heat and power (CHP) applications to serve thermal loads at the various sites and offset the need for those sites to otherwise purchase or produce heat. With the exception of power generated at Northern Power System’s facility, all generation occurring at WEC customer sites will be tied into WEC’s distribution system. Nothern Power Systems says that the MicroGrid power network is designed to offer important benefits to power producers and users alike. For utilities, MicroGrid networks may offer a cost-effective alternative to upgrading aging or insufficient distribution systems and to expanding infrastructure beyond existing lines in order to meet growing demand. Northern Power Systems maintains that by offsetting grid-power with network power, utilities can better predict daily levels of energy output, while also expanding their customer base, especially during peak hours. Utilities will be able to dispatch the MicroGrid power network’s generation in order to smooth bulk system demand, avoid price spikes, and potentially achieve conservation voltage regulation goals. Northern Power Systems also maintains that the MicroGrid power network enables utilities to take advantage of spot sales opportunities, marketing such systems directly to ideal customers such as business parks, colleges and universities, and hospital networks. The company says that users will realize significant benefits as well, because customers will receive the increased power quality and reliability that grid-paralleled onsite power systems offer. Also, because sites are still connected to the traditional distribution system, some of the responsibilities of ownership associated with other alternatives to grid-power are reduced. According to Northern Power Systems, the network will help stabilize costs for utility customers because the reduction in expenses for maintenance and improvements of infrastructure provides one less impetus for utilities to increase rates. In addition, at sites where heat recovery can be successfully introduced, there is a significant opportunity for MicroGrid power network customers to reduce their operating expenses by providing heat that would otherwise have to be generated. To help develop the project, Northern Power Systems received support from WEC and the state energy office. In addition, Vermont Senator James Jeffords (I-Vermont) was instrumental in securing federal funding from the U.S. Congress for the project, resulting in a $350,000 grant from the Department of Energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado is administering the grant. “This power network confronts the challenges of integrating distributed, renewable generation with customer loads and the utility grid,” said Senator Jeffords. “It makes sense to put energy production closer to where it is used, and in a way that improves system reliability, creates opportunities for renewable energy and provides customer value.” To address regulatory issues and facilitate subsequent commercial adoption, the project will go though the Vermont Public Service Board’s existing permit process. Northern Power Systems will design the system, acquire, install, commission, operate and maintain all generation assets incorporated into it. Northern Power Systems will also report on technology, safety, operating protocol, and economic benefit issues throughout the project. Founded in 1974, Northern Power Systems designs, builds and installs electric power systems for industrial, commercial and government customers worldwide. The company also conducts research and development in the areas of renewable energy, distributed generation and hydrogen technology.
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