By Jacqueline DeRosa, Ameresco
Climate change continues to be one of the largest threats impacting the future of our planet, and it requires a deeper commitment to energy resilience to protect against the effect of its rapid acceleration. Within the past year alone, we have witnessed multiple catastrophic weather events triggered by climate change that in the past would be deemed “once in a lifetime.” From historic heat waves and wildfires engulfing the West Coast, to deadly winter storms across the South, to hurricanes and tornadoes hitting the East Coast, it is evident that an increased cadence of catastrophic events is the new normal, and we must find new approaches to withstand their effects.
While climate change can impact every aspect of our power grids – including energy demand, generation, transmission and distribution – new strategies for energy resilience can play an integral role in combating and offsetting its negative effects. The untapped potential for resilient and reliable power continues to grow as the capabilities of innovative technologies like microgrids advance. Yet, deploying and financing microgrids continues to be challenging in the United States. Rules around planning, operations, safety, interconnection, ownership and market participation are complex, and they are gradually being updated to integrate new approaches which ensure resiliency.
With more resource penetration at the distributed level, utilities are faced with new technical challenges like reverse power flow and overloading conditions. Many utilities are also developing new Distributed Energy Management Systems (DERMS) to efficiently operate and dispatch distributed resources. In fact, a microgrid can be considered a new type of distributed resource, as it is an aggregation of resources, operating cohesively as one, that can safely island – meaning it can function independently when disconnected from the main grid in the event of an outage or issue – and keep the power on for a customer or community.
When electric power projects operate in this island mode to serve the load, the rules must be clearly defined to ensure a safe transition and operation. Fortunately, new microgrid requirements are being created in different places to ensure more resiliency from power outages and enable participation from new, flexible technologies like energy storage, a game changer in the microgrid arena.
Integrating energy storage into microgrids enables the resource to perform multiple functions. Advanced energy storage systems can seamlessly transition a microgrid to island mode from the larger power grid and provide load balancing services. Additionally, energy storage resources can participate in the wholesale markets during blue sky operations, providing voltage support and peak shaving services for the distribution grid. Yet, these benefits can only be recognized if tariffs and market designs are updated to integrate new technologies.
How can we bridge this gap? Standalone storage Investment Tax Credits (ITC) can support economic viability and promote microgrid development. We must also quantify the value of resiliency on a national scale to boost the popularity of microgrids.
By incorporating microgrids into the distributed resource mix, we can ensure greater resiliency for our power grid. Ideally as time progresses, new rules will be implemented and greater transparency will allow developers to work collaboratively to support utility operations and promote resiliency at the distributed level.
Microgrids in Action
For example, Ameresco partnered with Holy Cross Energy and Colorado Mountain College to design and build a five-megawatt solar photovoltaic system with a 15-megawatt-hour battery energy storage system earlier this year. Through this partnership, the Spring Valley Campus was able to reach campus resiliency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 6,800 metric tons annually.
In 2019, Ameresco completed another project aimed at ensuring energy resiliency for the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island. With the installation of a microgrid control system and battery energy storage system, the mission critical facility – which is located in an area that is vulnerable to severe thunderstorms – can now maintain security and prevent utility failures. This is just the beginning. As we begin to prioritize clean energy and energy resilience, we will continue to see similar projects, on both large and small scales, advance us in the right direction.
We are positioned for success. The Biden Administration is committed to combating climate change, and the necessary technology exists for us to become energy resilient. With these pieces in place, we can begin to pave the way for a more uniform approach that can be replicated and implemented across the country.
About the Author
Ameresco’s Vice President of Battery Energy Storage Systems Jacqueline DeRosa oversees the development and implementation of complex microgrid and energy storage system projects. She also serves as Vice Chair of the Energy Storage Association’s Board and ensures that Ameresco remains actively involved in energy storage conversations as an industry leader.