January 2016

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Is this the year of the Microgrid?

A microgrid is a system of systems that manages its energy generation, distribution, and use internally.

Toby Considine Toby Considine
TC9 Inc

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The beginning of the year is a time to consider change and reformation. In our personal lives, we resolve to improve what we can. During the darkness of winter, we consider what new activities we will embark on as daylight increases. Many readers of Automated Buildings go to the AHR show, to learn of new technologies to put into the field this next year. There is a growing acknowledgment of microgrids as an approach that solves many of the most pressing issues in facilities. The technologies are lining up.

Is this, then, finally the year of the microgrid?

A microgrid is a system of systems that manages its energy generation, distribution, and use internally. A microgrid may or may not be connected to a larger grid. If it is connected, it may choose to buy, or to sell power to the larger grid. Its position of power shortage or surplus may change over time. Many think of a microgrid as something that supports a multitude of buildings, say an industrial park. I am writing this column on a portable laptop that meets all of the definition above.

A few facilities have constant and predicable power use that can be matched well with constant and predictable generation. Intermittent use is more common, and intermittent generation is becoming more common. Most microgrids will struggle to align power availability and power use. Reduced cost, longer life, and greater reliability make on-site storage affordable for more owners. Installed on site storage is becoming more common, and the financial world now understands it well enough to offer capital financing. Storage enables a site to plan for energy use throughout the day no matter the period of generation.

The use of semantic systems within the controls of buildings and factories was the story of 2015. SkySpark integrations are in growing number. The recently completed OBIX 1.1 brings tagging to this middleware specification. Buildings and factories are complex systems, and each is unique. Semantic tagging will help tame this knowledge problem, and enable the application of IT techniques such as policy-based allocation simplify building power use management and power smoothing. These approaches are coming, but not really here yet.

Power planning requires power use awareness. ASHRAE is just finishing the Facility Smart Grid Information Model (FSGIM – SPC201) which describes what power use awareness looks like. FSGIM is here, now, and integrators that build around FSGIM today will find them ready to act within microgrids later.

All eyes are on the growing application of transactive energy. Transactive energy abstracts the interactions of complex systems into simple services. A system willing to buy or sell power can interact with any counterparty through the same simple transactive services. The NIST Transactive Energy Challenge should be publishing results by the summer of 2016. When it does, look to rapid development and deployment of transactive systems.

I don’t think that 2016 will be the year of the microgrid. Integrators are just learning to deploy higher performing, longer lasting storage. Semantic models long in development are now poised in the market. Business models built on transactive services are going through final validation. 2017 will be the year of the microgrid.

2016 will be the year of getting ready for the microgrid.


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