Blue Planet Energy’s senior application engineer and solar-plus-storage industry expert, Wes Kennedy, recently joined Mayfield Renewables’ Interconnection podcast to discuss all things microgrids.
Alongside Ageto Energy’s Laura Williams, Energy Toolbase’s Quinn Laudenslager, and Mayfield Renewables’ Justine Sanchez, Wes shared his expertise on the evolution of solar-plus-storage microgrids, the pivotal first steps in developing any microgrid, and combating common misconceptions.
Here’s a look at Wes’ insights from the conversation.
What is your experience and background with microgrids?
Wes: I’ve been involved in microgrids for about 25 years – before the grid-tied revolution – and have worn a lot of different hats in the industry.
I started my own solar company that I ran for several years. Then I moved to the manufacturing side where I worked primarily in the inverter space, which are a linchpin of sorts to microgrid projects. Most recently, I switched to the energy storage side with Blue Planet Energy.
Having been involved in this industry for many, many years, I’m excited that the projects and dreams we've been chasing for decades are now being built.
What do you feel are some of the largest misconceptions about microgrids?
Wes: The biggest misconception, and this has been the case for 25 years, is trying to define a microgrid as one-size-fits all. In a way, we have figured out how to do that for grid-tie solar, and maybe we'll get there with microgrids some day, but at this point a lot of folks are looking to incorporate a standard, “cookie cutter” microgrid solution into their offerings.
Ultimately, however, what we see is that every microgrid is unique and each one has its own set of challenges and solutions.
For instance, not only do you have to take into account the customer’s goals but you also have to consider the shape of the customer’s load profile. Then there’s the cost of the hardware and the utility’s tariff structure. You can have two identical hardware packages, but if there’s an aggressive tariff structure with high time-of-use rates, you can see projects with drastically different return rates. All of these factors are unique for nearly every project.
What are important steps in the development of a microgrid?
Wes: When you’re working with a new microgrid project lead, one the first things to do is understand their loads. But this can also be your biggest wrestling match.
We always drive toward collecting 15-minute interval historical energy usage data, but you can’t always get that. 15-minute interval data is sometimes available through the utility, but if it’s not, you may have to install monitoring equipment to start collecting that data.
After that, we have two semi-similar but different concepts that we design the project around. One is peak power. Peak power is instantaneous, and we know we've got to carry this load - whether it's for one millisecond or 24/7. This is going to determine your inverter sizing and/or your generator sizing – that’s your power. Then the energy storage is analogous to your fuel storage – and that's your energy: the time that you need to carry those loads. Identifying all of this at the beginning will help ensure the rest of the project runs smoothly.
Once you have the goals of the systems defined with load and power, what’s next?
Wes: Next we talk about vendor selection. As batteries are now typically the biggest single capital expense in microgrid projects, it's really important for the decision makers to understand not just the upfront capital costs, but the total cost of ownership.
Blue Planet Energy batteries may cost more upfront, but the battery lasts twice as long. So, when you really start peeling back the onion, thinking about truck rolls and replacement costs, and then even a little further into the future with longevity and recycling– there’s an emphasis on the importance of choosing products that are going to last a long time – and in a sustainable way.
Also, when looking at what assets might work for your system, there's a great deal of variation from storage inverter to storage inverter that each have different pros and cons when it comes to price and functionality. For example, can it perform a seamless transition or dynamic transfer? Then you have to ask yourself, do these selections match up with the goal and budget of the customer?
What is the biggest lesson learned from our most recent microgrid?
Wes: The most recent lessons learned would have to come back to supply chain issues. I think everybody needs to be super aware of things that are going to take longer than wanted. We really don’t know when it’s going to let up, so really understanding and managing expectations about timelines has been a key takeaway.
Want to hear more about the current state of microgrids and what’s in store for the future? Listen to the full episode at: https://anchor.fm/mayfield-podcast9/episodes/Solar-Plus-Storage-Microgrids-e1hm4b9