Last week I traveled to Chicago where, as a participant in Siemens’ US Innovation Day, I had an opportunity to explore a number of exciting technology advancements. One of the innovations that I found interesting was the concept of aggregated microgrids managed by a utility.
At the event, Siemens announced that it plans to partner with ComEd to develop the first utility-operated microgrid cluster.
ComEd will deploy the Bronzeville Community Microgrid to serve over 1,000 customers in Chicago. This microgrid will connect with another established microgrid on the Illinois Institute of Technology’s campus. The utility plans to integrate its algorithms with Siemens’ Microgrid Management System software (MGMS) in order to manage and optimize energy resources across the two microgrids.
“Our goal is to successfully exhibit the first utility-operated microgrid cluster in the world, an approach we believe will bring energy customers an unprecedented level of power security and resilience,” said Terence Donnelly, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer (COO), ComEd. “Bringing together Siemens’ extensive experience in the utility software development and implementation space with our efforts will help keep power flowing for our customers.”
To gain more insight into the concept of microgrid clusters and the intricacies of managing multiple microgrids, I reached out to Ken Geisler, Director, Siemens Digital Grid.
Distributed Energy (DE): What specific advantages does a cluster of microgrids provide?
Ken Geisler (KG): Clusters of microgrids are an efficient and more resilient grid design to which the grid will evolve over time. The current trend toward decentralization, distributed energy resources, renewable resources, grid modernization, and grid edge active devices all promote and are supported by this type of design. While microgrids have typically been applied to the economic interest of the energy consumer/producer, this type of solution opens up the value of microgrids to the utility in harmony with meeting the objectives of the energy consumer/producer.
DE: How does Siemens plan to address the complexity of managing aggregated microgrids that include diverse generation resources?
KG: Siemens currently has a field-proven microgrid strategy and technology portfolio that includes equipment, field controllers, and a microgrid management system. Combinations of these elements are in place at a number of sites around the world including Blue Lakes Rancheria in California. The movement toward cluster designs opens up these solutions to be components in broader optimization schemes that benefit the customer as well as the utility. Siemens plans to work with selected customers to use its base microgrid products and existing optimization technology in application to these new operating objectives.
DE: Is this cluster model the future of microgrids?
KG: There will be a variety of ways that microgrids will be implemented in the future. The cluster concept is one of them which draws out broader opportunities for/with utilities as the industry looks at new service-oriented business models. Clusters will definitely be part of this future.
DE: Can you give us the breakdown? How many different generation assets will be online?
KG: These elements are currently being defined in detail but are initially planned to include PV, CHP, and energy storage. Optimization of resources is the main effort in the first phase which will help define the cluster possibilities.
Ultimately, the cluster granularity will depend on the economics of the generation and storage technologies emerging over the coming years combined with the objectives of the utility, community, major energy stakeholders, and broader customer base. It raises the need for community energy planning to establish more flexible, resilient, and sustainable solutions for the energy infrastructure. And it suggests ways in which the business model of the utilities will change.