Microgrids Take Center Stage at PJM Annual Meeting

Microgrids, one of the hottest topics in the energy industry, were the focus of the General Session of the PJM Annual Meeting of Members Wednesday morning. Five experts representing different aspects of microgrids presented at “Nested Microgrids: Distributed Systems for Local Resilience.”

No matter their specific subject matter, the panelists agreed that there are challenges to developing microgrids as a viable segment of the energy industry – obtaining access to wholesale markets, ancillary services, managing interconnections and finding a tariff process at a microgrid scale.

Michael Burr, director of the Microgrid Institute, gave an overall picture of the microgrid market, including the four types (utility-integrated campus, community microgrids, off-grid microgrids and nanogrids) and how distributed energy technologies provide new options to achieve microgrid resilience.

Burr pointed out that microgrid expansion reflects the bigger picture of rapidly advancing technologies from photovoltaic to software controls. This is happening within larger context of federal, state, and local government agencies pursuit, and encouragement of, innovation and development.

Microgrids can have a major impact not just in the Western Hemisphere, but in places such as sub-Saharan Africa, said Dr. Lawrence Jones, North America vice president for Utility Innovations and Infrastructure Resilience, Alstom.

He focused on the flexibility of microgrids as either retail or wholesale entities because their value is not to the end user but to “society as a whole.”

Micah Kotch, director, New York Prize, New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) said that his organization looks for replicable and scalable community microgrid projects.

A NYSERDA study found several levels of benefits to microgrids – reduction in emissions from greenhouse gases and pollutants and reduced power interruptions and enhanced power quality. They also proved to be safe havens during power outages.

Tom Nyquist, executive director, Engineering & Campus Energy, Princeton University emphasized how important the microgrid proved to be to the university community after Superstorm Sandy.

Princeton’s chilled water plant runs on the microgrid. When Sandy devastated the area, the university turned to the microgrid to keep the plant running. The ability to keep water chilled meant that the university could save more than 50 years of DNA research which needs the conditions the chilled water provides.

Tom Fenimore, manager of Technology Development Manager at Duke Energy, talked about projects his department has developed or is still developing, including a signature project – the McAlpine Creek neighborhood in Charlotte. The company uses it as a high-tech “neighborhood lab” test site for new technology in a real-life environment.

PJM President and CEO Terry Boston wrapped up the session, saying, “Microgrids are the cutting edge of the industry.”