Powering on

Microgrids provide backup energy option

Posted on Sep 19, 2018 :: Back Office Operations
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

Manufacturers know they lose money any time production is offline, whether caused by a mechanical problem or a power failure.

While many manufacturers have generators in place for power outages, there’s another option available — installing a microgrid. A microgrid generates energy onsite from the sun, which can be used either immediately or stored in a battery for when it’s needed.

Menasha-based Faith Technologies Inc., working with Schneider Electric, engineered and built the largest microgrid in the Midwest to power the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve in Appleton. The microgrid includes a photovoltaic solar system, a hydrogen fuel cell, battery storage, micro turbine and a natural gas generator, says Charlie Fredrickson, Faith’s vice president of investments.

“The Bubolz project was a way we could demonstrate the value that a microgrid brings to a facility,” he says. “The microgrid creates, stores and manages clean energy. For example, at night, the intelligent system pulls energy off the Tesla battery where it was stored during the day to run the facility.”

Fredrickson says the Bubolz project “redefines what’s possible,” adding hydrogen can also be produced onsite to run the fuel cell. “It’s a net zero process.”

Microgrids, which can generate up to 3 megawatts, provide a business with resiliency if there’s a power outage and can help it avoid large demand charges.

Manufacturers — and other large users of energy — can face additional utility charges depending on how much electricity they use and when they use it. Fredrickson says an onsite microgrid can generate and store power, and then a business can use its own energy instead of drawing it from the grid during peak demand time.

Schneider Electric worked with Faith to develop the microgrid at Bubolz. Philip Barton, director of the Schneider Electric Microgrid Competency Center, says businesses and organizations are increasingly interested in renewable energy sources, whether it is for environmental reasons and initiatives or as a cost-saving measure over time.

“By marrying the internet of things to its energy system, the Bubolz microgrid will be able to optimize when it consumes, produces or stores energy, thereby demonstrating the highest levels of sustainability, reliability and efficiency through tools like Schneider Electric Energy Control Center and EcoStruxure Microgrid Advisor,” he says.

With Bubolz being a nature preserve, Fredrickson says a lot of synergies were created, including Faith having the ability to help develop STEM-related education programs around the microgrids.

The software running the microgrid is cloud-connected, so Faith and Schneider Electric can remotely monitor and update any programming. The microgrid sends live data on its performance to a display inside Faith’s Innovation Center in downtown Menasha.

Power on the go

Onsite microgrids are not the only option available to manufacturers looking for help with their power needs. Mobile microgrids offer another solution, Fredrickson says.

Faith debuted a mobile microgrid, which was built by its Excellerate Manufacturing program, during EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, where it attracted a lot of interest, Fredrickson says.

Housed in a 20-by-8-foot intermodal freight container, the microgrid uses solar photovoltaic energy, a lithium-ion battery energy storage system, a hydrogen fuel cell system and an industrial ethernet switch for controls and remote connectivity.

“The mobile model is definitely for a smaller production scale, but it can be used somewhere without power lines or anywhere there is a loss of power on the grid,” Fredrickson says. “The mobile microgrids can also be tied together to create a larger power source.”

The microgrids are modular and can be scaled as needed by Excellerate Manufacturing and can be moved on flatbed trucks. Fredrickson says using a mobile microgrid offers several advantages over using a generator as a backup power source.

“One of the great things about a microgrid is that it can continuously run and keep generating more power to keep going,” he says. “With a generator, it only runs as long as you have fuel.”

Investing in a microgrid is a long-term value proposition for companies — they pay more upfront, but save money over time thanks to lower electricity bills, Fredrickson says. The microgrids, for example, do not require the purchase of additional fuel while a generator does.

Faith — by leveraging its capital and investment services — can help businesses procure a microgrid as an operational expense line item, which helps reduce not only the amount spent overall on energy, but also allows businesses to avoid lengthy capital expenditure processes, Fredrickson says.

“Microgrids are definitely a growing trend, especially as concerns grow related to the stability of the nation’s infrastructure,” he says.