• Military Microgrids
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  • DER
  • Power Generation

Moving from Customized to Plug-And-Play Microgrids

Peter Asmus
Dec 06, 2019

Storage

The beauty of the microgrid is that it can be customized to meet the precise resiliency, economic, and environmental goals of any customer. As the industry saying goes “You’ve seen one microgrid—you’ve seen one microgrid.” The common perception is that each microgrid is a personalized energy systems of any size, made up of a diversity of any available distributed energy resource (DER). Though intense customization is one of the microgrid platform’s strongest selling points, it has a major downside—time and money costs. This has been pointed out by some software vendors, including Spirae.

In response to these costs, there is an alternative movement within microgrid ranks. This alternative approach commoditizes standard microgrid offerings that can be pieced together like LEGO blocks, thereby shrinking design and deployment costs. The LEGO approach is attractive to financiers as it would create portfolios of similar assets—it would make microgrids modular and plug-and-play.

Extreme Weather Events Call for Microgrid Deployment

California's recent wildfires sparked interest in this microgrid trend. Wildfires are a continued threat to grid reliability and the speed of microgrid deployment is vital to an effective response. Modular (and even mobile) solutions are highly valued. Scale Microgrid Solutions, a modular microgrid vendor, is confident it will bring 25 MW of new capacity online. This is possible through its rapid response modular microgrid (R2M2) offering, which is made up of solar PV, battery, and dispatchable natural gas generators. Enchanted Rock, another modular microgrid vendor, has also entered the California market.

If measured by system capacity, North America is the market leader for modular microgrids. The region shows a 23.2% compounded annual growth rate for new capacity by 2029. The modular microgrid market is anticipated to grow to over $5 billion in annual implementation spending by 2029.

Annual Modular Microgrid Capacity and Implementation Spending, World Markets: 2020-2029

Mobile Microgrids 

(Source: Guidehouse Insights)

Vendors Create New Mobile Microgrids to Respond to Emergencies

And interesting new market trend is for modular microgrids that can be moved around in response to emergencies. Pacific Gas & Electric just announced its plan to deploy 40 such systems to help alleviate public safety power shutoff (PSPS) impacts. Many of these mobile modular applications have been informed by US Department of Defense projects deployed by Lockheed Martin and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories.

Among the smaller startup pioneers in this space is California-based SimpliPhi Power. It designs and manufactures efficient, non-toxic, modular energy storage systems. The system uses lithium ferro phosphate, a lithium ion chemistry that does not contain the hazardous element cobalt, eliminating any thermal runaway issues that plague other lithium ion chemistries. The company’s roots date back to 2010. Its original focus was mobile, modular, military, and entertainment industry applications (such as movie shoots in remote locations). Systems have been deployed in more than 40 countries to 7,500 customers representing 85 MWh of energy storage. 

The company offers an Energize California program (available through December 2019) in response to the wildfire threat and corresponding PSPS programs deployed by utilities. The special program extended consumer discounts on its fully integrated, pre-wired AccESS energy storage system (AccESS) and its fuel-free mobile generator (ExprESS), as well as portable emergency power kits (Gennys). The AccESS model has the ability to be installed as an uninterruptible power source to come online during an outage. This negates the need for going through lengthy permitting processes or potentially requiring an utility interconnection agreement, further building the business case for modular microgrid solutions.