Executive Perspective: Continuing the Conversation: Only proper microgrid design will ensure maximum carbon reduction in energy systems

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you for reading my op-ed in Power Grid International, Only proper microgrid design will ensure maximum carbon reduction in energy systems. If you haven’t had a chance to read the op-ed, you can here, https://bit.ly/3a9AK3w, and then return for more insight into microgrids and their potential role in the carbon future.

As I discussed in the op-ed, the pace of microgrid adoption is growing exponentially, from both traditional and non-traditional developers. Without an industry standard – or at a minimum, just basic consideration – for microgrid planning as it relates to CO2 emissions, there is potential to take a positive carbon emissions impact and make it less so, or even negative. Microgrids represent a clear area within with power industry that can provide emissions reductions, and my hope is that planners understand the potential positive impacts they could make with proper planning and verification. 

Whether or not the utility, municipality or private entity you are working with has CO2 emission goals, considering CO2 impacts in microgrid planning could still be beneficial. CO2 targets and accounting are ever-present, and are becoming the norm – and only likely to become more stringent, analyzed and accounted for in investment and financial decisions. Accounting for CO2 impacts in your microgrid planning, just as you would with consideration of new fossil-based generation planning, means you will have a full understanding of the impacts, even if they’re minor. Finally, implementing a micro-grid should not mark the end of your work, your evaluation of CO2 reduction, nor the economic benefit analysis. Impact verification should be a part of your annual routine. Optimized microgrid operation and dispatch of assets will depend greatly on constantly shifting parameters at your site: load profile, weather, renewable generation, economics, electricity markets. If those are shifting, so are your impacts – economic and CO2. Annual review and verification can ensure you know your impact accurately as we head into more stringent accounting times.

While the specific work we completed with Arizona State University (ASU) focused on Department of Defense (DoD) installations, the findings are of course applicable to independent installations. As we continue to work with ASU and the DoD during Phase II of the research to evaluate the optimal control strategies with hardware-in-the-loop testing, we’ll plan to take an independent look at CO2 impacts of microgrid dispatch, and move toward a full field demonstration that will be monitored and verified over a long time period. During this demonstration project we will then evaluate performance and potential impacts, while also evaluating variability of these impacts – both economic and CO2. We expect continued growth and scaling of microgrid solutions – hopefully with consideration for optimal design and asset inclusion, as well as CO2 impact from the beginning. I think consideration of verification of microgrid impacts should start immediately with these initial deployments, so we can learn some lessons, and ensure as we scale, we do it right.

Below is a list of questions and answers that you may have after reading the op-ed. If you have additional questions, please email us at info @ 350Solutions (.) com.


Tim Hansen, Founder & CEO, 350Solutions

(Q). Where can I learn more about the joint study completed for DoD ESTCP with Arizona State University and XENDEE?

(A). To learn more about our joint study with ASU check here: https://www.serdp-estcp.org/Program-Areas/Installation-Energy-and-Water/Energy/Microgrids-and-Storage/EW19-5277.

(Q). What steps should we be taking within our microgrid planning to account for CO2 emissions? Or, we have an operational microgrid, how should we account for our CO2 emissions now that we’re operational?

(A). First, and most obviously, calculate them. I would venture to guess that most folks aren’t. So, to borrow a slogan – Just Do It.  Second, as you consider what types of generation assets to include or add into your microgrid (including the grid), consider their carbon intensity alongside costs. If economics pencil out – opt for the less carbon intensive sources.  Third, consider forecasting future scenarios with carbon pricing included (although it won’t be bankable, it’s worth a quick calculation to see what you’re getting into with a system that has a 25+ year life – who knows where we will be with carbon in 10, 20, 30 years?).

(Q). What clean technologies should we be considering with for a future micro-grid?

(A). Obviously, renewable generation, wherever possible. With cost equivalence in many cases, optimizing the amount of PV or other renewable generation can be cost effective strictly from a generating cost standpoint, but can have even more impacts on system impacts when optimal microgrid dispatch is considered, improving economics, carbon emissions, AND resiliency. Along with renewables comes energy storage – it’s critical to optimize these assets together – and not just throw some storage in the mix with existing assets. There are lots of technologies and new companies to consider with limited track records – so there is still some risk to deployment. Keep an eye on results of demonstrations, total number of installations, and if technologies have been thoroughly evaluated or verified to reduce risk. To make all of this work, you need microgrid controllers, too. Similar to energy storage, not a lot of track record here either: consider similar things – demonstration results, total deployments, control strategy. ESTCP has completed several projects, as has DOE and the national labs. Ultimately, you can go with some of the larger traditional companies, or a new startup tech. It’s simply a question of risk appetite and potential payoff.

(Q). What are the key differences between an ETV vs. IPMVP evaluation?

(A). Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) is a means of evaluating specific technologies and their performance and impacts. It occurs under a specified set of operating conditions and is used to reduce risk of implementing new techs in the marketplace by providing independent assessment and high-quality data about the technology itself and its technical performance and environmental impacts. International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP) verifications are often focused on ensuring that a project that has been implemented, or individual conservation measures meet performance targets, often those that are included in energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs) or other similar mechanisms. Measurement and verification (M&V) via IPMVP provide continuous evaluation of the performance and cost savings of a specified project at a site. In short, ETV is more technology focused and happens before deployment; IPMVP verifications focus on the more holistic integrated projects or independent measures, and happens after deployment (although M&V considerations are certainly included in design, procurement and other steps), with a focus on contract targets.  If you’re interested in learning more, check out these sources:

ISO 14034 ETV: Information on the process and application: https://350solutions.com/iso14034-etv/

Efficiency Valuation Organization, IPMVP Information: https://evo-world.org/en/products-services-mainmenu-en/protocols/ipmvp

(Q). Where can I read the other studies mentioned in your op-ed?

  • Li, M., Zhang, X., Li, G., Chaoyang, J., A feasibility study of microgrids for reducing energy use and GHG emissions in an industrial application. Applied Energy. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apenergy.2016.05.070 (China Study)

  • Hanna, R., Ghonima, M., Kleissl, J., Tynan, G., Victor, D.G., Evaluating business models for microgrids: Interactions of technology and policy. Energy Policy. ScienceDirect. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2017.01.010

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Microgrid planning for maxium carbon reduction impacts should account for renwables and clean technology assets.
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