What does the future hold for microgrids? According to Peter Asmus, Research Director for microgrids at Navigant Research, as inertia carries the market forward in the coming decade, microgrids will present opportunities for new business models and technologies as well as an energy landscape transformed by distributed generation sources.
Peter’s research at Navigant focuses on the emerging energy distribution, integration, and optimization of smart grid models such as nanogrids, microgrids, and virtual power plants. He has 30 years of experience in energy and environmental markets as an analyst, writer, and consultant. Peter has managed Navigant Research’s microgrid research service since 2009 and has served as the lead author of over 35 different reports covering topics such as microgrid global market segments, capacity and revenue forecasts, technology evaluations, and regulatory analysis.
Distributed Energy is pleased to announce that Peter will present a keynote address at this year’s HOMER International Microgrid Conference, where he will join other industry leaders and policy makers in developing goals, financial models, and policy objectives that help drive the industry forward. Distributed Energy is thrilled to produce the event. We hope that you will join us there.
We recently reached out to Peter for his perspectives on microgrid technologies, market momentum, and the distributed energy configurations of the future. We’re honored to share his insights here:
Distributed Energy (DE): What is the most exciting microgrid project that you’ve learned about recently?
Peter Asmus (PA): It is difficult to just highlight one project, since there are so many. Here at Navigant Research, we’ve added over 200 new microgrids to our biennial Microgrid Deployment Tracker data set since last year—and we know that number will grow exponentially in the future.
I’d like to highlight the Hunter’s Point microgrid in San Francisco because it highlights a new trend: the linkage between microgrids and new real estate developments. The developer is also a new company, GI Energy, which just announced major investments by a division of Shell, the multi-national oil company. The project is very ambitious and includes geothermal heating, also a technology not often integrated into microgrids. Over 10,000 new homes will be part of this microgrid. It is really a ground-breaking project.
DE: Are there specific technologies on the horizon that might be game-changers?
PA: The good news is that most technologies required for microgrids are fully commercialized. The game-changer today is the reduction in energy storage costs. Yet I would argue that the key to making microgrids mainstream is the controls. Moving toward a more modular approach with a distributed controls framework seems to be where the market is moving, though there is clearly still a need for a higher hierarchy of controls too for grid-tied microgrids in order for them to provide grid services to utilities and other grid operators.
DE: Are there policy initiatives that are either holding microgrids back or helping them advance?
PA: Compared to when I started covering the microgrid market in 2009, there are a host of new policy initiatives supporting microgrids, especially along the East Coast of the US. Due to recent extreme weather events, we are now also seeing programs popping up in Texas, Florida, and perhaps most importantly, Puerto Rico, which just unveiled the most ambitious and comprehensive microgrid regulatory system in the world. Hawaii, already a hot spot, is also considering a more integrated microgrid initiative due to the recent volcano eruption. Other countries around the world, including Australia and India, have also put forward major initiatives.
In terms of barriers, many of them revolve around business models and how to streamline financing and interconnection. It is really utilities that need to reinvent themselves. Many are, with the number of microgrids being deployed by utilities increasing. The open question is whether microgrids become just another tool for utilities to accommodate the growth in distributed energy resources (DER) or if the private sector continues to drive innovation. I think it will be a little bit of both. When utilities can rate-base microgrids as a common matter, that will be the sign that the microgrid has become fully commercialized. But it will be third-party microgrids that drive innovation in the near term.
DE: What do you see as the future of microgrids? What are the next steps in the technology’s evolution?
PA: I see the future of microgrids as part of the evolution of a more distributed and diverse energy future. In 2018, more DER capacity is coming online than centralized generation such as nuclear and coal. And that trend will only accelerate over time.
Microgrids will become standard infrastructure for many C&I customers and urban centers. Rather than being seen as an exotic new way to generate or maintain energy, they will be seen as being the norm, leveraging deployments of solar PV and batteries and other DER such as fuel cells and combined heat and power facilities.
Resiliency will be valued in light of climate change, the ongoing terrorist threat, and the need to maintain reliability with new technologies displacing traditional fossil fuel generators.
The next steps will be focused on streamlining financing with new business models such as “energy-as-a-service,” where customers avoid large capital outlays and instead can pay for microgrids incrementally over the life of projects.