Solar energy is cleanly replacing other energy sources as the top generator for planned US microgrids, according to a new analysis by Fairfax, VA-based technology analysts ICF.
Solar currently leads the way for all planned US microgrid capacity despite a significant amount of deployments for combined heat and power, or CHP-based microgrids as well, according to David Jones, an analyst at ICF.
Utilizing the ICF database for CHP installations that the analyst maintains for the US Department of Energy, Jones found that there are 104 planned microgrid projects that will have a cumulative generation capacity of 1.55 GW, compared with 3.85 GW of installed capacity, which is tracked back over 50 years.
An August nose-count and market forecast of microgrids by Navigant Research showed that the global microgrid market will become a $30.9 billion industry by 2027. During that period, global microgrid capacity will grow from less than 4 GW to around 150 GW, Navigant predicts.
One reason that solar is taking over in planning is that many microgrids are scheduled to be included in community or military sites across the United States, and these two types of microgrids heavily favor solar. Jones notes that there are also “significant opportunities to deploy solar and storage alongside existing CHP installations,” as is the case in many military installations.
Indeed, many installed microgrids often subsequently include other technologies such as solar PV and energy storage, Jones found. These hosts value reliability and resiliency, incorporating renewable energy, and research and development. In recent years, microgrids have become known as a reliable and resilient power source that can maintain operation during storm events and grid outages, he adds.
One recently awarded military microgrid project that will rely on solar is the $135 million Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) in San Antonio, being developed by Framingham-based Ameresco, an energy efficiency and energy infrastructure provider. The contract was issued on October 22 by the Defense Logistics Agency Energy to implement a $133.5 million energy resilient infrastructure project at JBSA in Texas.
Ameresco will provide energy efficiency and reliability upgrades to 900 buildings across five military installations and will build a microgrid integrating 20 MW of new onsite energy photovoltaic assets, 4 MW of gas fired backup generation, and 4 MW/8 MWh of battery energy storage to support critical energy loads for mission assurance.
“Ameresco is proud to support the mission of Joint Base San Antonio through energy assurance and new infrastructure,” said Nicole A. Bulgarino, the executive vice president of Federal Solutions at Ameresco, in an award announcement. “This project will provide critical infrastructure improvements to JBSA through energy conservation and will enhance the energy security of the installation through redundant, reliable backup generation assets,” she said.
New microgrids in community projects are driven by policies set by cities seeking distributed generation to provide more resilient and clean power. “Policy initiatives and programs promoting resilient and distributed grid strategies are the key to unlocking future growth in the community microgrid space,” Jones notes.
Policy-driven microgrids are prevalent in California, Jones says. California expects more installations as the state Public Utilities Commission responds to a new microgrid bill. Similarly, microgrids in Hawaii and Alaska are traditionally required for islands and off-grid or remote communities.
Nonetheless, the majority of operational and planned microgrids are located in the Northeast, where extreme weather in states like New York and Massachusetts demands the improved resistance to power outages that microgrids provide, Jones says.
Utilities are also emerging as owners of solar microgrids, especially in communities more distant from the existing density of grid network assets, Jones found. “The current microgrid ownership models still favor end users, while utility ownership is more prevalent in remote and island communities – however, we may see more towns develop as utilities become attracted to the mixed model,” he says.
The DOE CHP Installation Database database contains a comprehensive listing of combined heat and power installations throughout the country. ICF tracks installations of all sizes, from large industrial systems that are hundreds of megawatts in size to small commercial microturbine and fuel cell systems that are tens of kilowatts. The database is updated on a monthly basis and is composed of information from a variety sources including the ten DOE CHP Technical Assistance Partnerships (CHP TAPs), the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the EPA CHP Partnership, utility lists, incentive program data, CHP developers and equipment suppliers, and other sources, DOE says.