Energy Management / Control Systems / Electrical Systems

Microgrids for energy modernization

Advanced controls can allow power grid and plant electrical systems to integrate.

By Andy Haun, Schneider Electric

Digitization, decarbonization, and decentralization of energy generation and the grid are driving transformational shifts in plant energy and business models. The way plants traditionally source energy is not compatible with the dynamics of the changing grid.

In response, plant operators are seeking ways to upgrade existing electrical infrastructure, add new technology, and adapt to today’s energy demand by making plants more resilient and sustainable. However, they are challenged to do so without a complete overhaul of their plant’s legacy systems. Many plant operators face the challenges of operating outdated electrical infrastructure while trying to reduce energy spend and operating a facility with a single power source while aiming to increase sustainability. Microgrids are one way plant operators can address today’s power needs, by connecting the site’s various power and electrical systems and more easily integrating distributed energy resources (DER) into the facility’s energy mix.

By adding digital connectivity to the energy system within a plant, microgrids modernize the electrical system and make digitized power distribution smarter. Application of the industrial internet of things (IIoT) enables more sustainable, efficient, and resilient energy use. Additionally, advanced microgrid controls can allow the existing power grid and plant electrical systems to integrate and interact through comprehensive communication within the site’s industrial network.

Contemporary plants are no longer dependent on a single source for power generation, which enhances resiliency in the event of an outage while enabling efficient and sustainable power use. Some microgrid control platforms can help manage the integration of DER such as solar and/or batteries while offering features including tariff management, demand response requests, peak shaving, and carbon dioxide (CO2) tracking. Other systems automate energy decision-making, allowing a plant to automatically shift energy distribution based on real-time data and weather patterns. In this modern era, in which efficient energy use is paramount, microgrids enable integration and communication that optimizes the behavior of the electrical system. By supporting more-economic and efficient energy use, microgrids offer significant value to plant operators.

Microgrid deployment for plant operations

The current way of generating, distributing, consuming, and managing energy is not sustainable. Many plant managers prioritize the efficient use of energy to limit spend. Microgrids provide plant operators:

  • Preconfigured and packaged solutions that allow the electrical system to more easily to integrate and coexist;
  • Resiliency in architecture through treatment of critical loads;
  • Load management through services associated with advanced microgrid controls; and
  • Cybersecurity, because the system communicates with and controls itself.

Microgrids and advanced microgrid controls seamlessly integrate plant electrical systems with the larger electrical grid. This allows all aspects of an industrial facility’s energy acquisition, generation, and consumption to be managed holistically. For example, demand-side software can integrate with the grid to use advanced algorithms that will coordinate communications within the grid and optimize microgrid operation. The sophisticated, automated analysis these tools provide can identify when plant operators should consume, produce, or store energy for the highest levels of performance, reliability and cost savings.

Advanced microgrid controls make the plant a connected system that is dynamic, fast, and smart to achieve savings, sustainability, and resiliency goals through energy management and optimization. By tracking, forecasting, and visualizing energy data, operators get a comprehensive view of:

  • Variable energy production, consumption, and storage;
  • Consumption shift based on day-ahead and variable utility price;
  • Weather forecasts to predict and manage storm hardening measures;
  • Demand-response requests via Open ADR 2.0; and
  • Site-specific operating requests to enhance the facility’s sustainability profile.

IIoT-optimized energy use

Today, most plants operate in a connected environment. Facilities that are not connected are at a disadvantage. Microgrids offer plant operators a way to integrate advanced energy controls and provide a connectivity layer between other parts of the operation and the industrial network. When plants are outfitted with IIoT at the electrical layer, each individual part of the facility can communicate. This simplifies operational control and allows a facility to manage its own power and electricity production and consumption. Using connected systems optimizes plant operations, helping plant operators make data-driven decisions about how they manage energy within their facility. Cybersecurity must be built into the multilayered connected system; when this is done carefully and systematically, it can increase the overall resiliency of the site, both electrically and digitally.

Facility management decisions around energy use are influenced by cost efficiency. Therefore, operators should consider the advantages of using IIoT and microgrids to better integrate and optimize industrial processes within their energy system. Through updated electrical infrastructure and architecture, microgrids can increase sustainability and resiliency and thereby reduce energy-related costs or losses resulting from downtime. Often, the integration of microgrids adds connectivity and updates to existing electrical systems that may be outdated. This facilitates more-intelligent and more cost-effective plant operation decisions based on real-time data.