FOCUS: Smart Grid 2013
• bayme vbm
• German American Chambers of Commerce, Inc. (GACC)
• Polytechnic Institute of New York University
The evening’s moderator, Prof. Kurt Becker, Associate Provost for Research and Technology Initiatives as well as Professor of Applied Physics and of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly), initiated the discussion, outlining the various ideas that exist about smart microgrids.
Matthew Fairy, Founder and President of Emergent Energy Solutions, followed, offering his definition of a microgrid: a self-contained system of energy generation and distribution that combines multiple energy sources and operates either autonomously or in conjunction with the grid. Currently, microgrids are most commonly found in the corporate, military, and university sectors. The general concept, however, is not new. In fact, the first microgrid was actually installed in New York City in the 1880s. Looking ahead, Mr. Fairy predicts that there will eventually be hundreds to thousands of individual microgrids that will be able to support each other in case of power outages. This structure offers a major advantage over the traditional power transmission system, which is prone to cascading failures, as recently demonstrated by widespread blackouts during Hurricane Sandy. When implementing microgrids in densely populated areas, there are three important issues to consider: the legal restrictions pertaining to city and state regulations, the technical challenges associated with the synchronization of various generation sources, and the financial implications of such a costly project.
The second speaker Dr. Christian Höpfner, Scientific Director at the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSE), described the technical aspects of microgrids. From an engineering perspective, “microgrids are not rocket science,” he said. The economic and societal motivation, however, remains the largest hurdle to overcome for widespread implementation of this technology. Almost everything about a microgrid’s functionality can be achieved fairly easily up until the expensive point of connecting the microgrid to the larger power system. To instigate this transition, it is imperative for organizations to reflect on what they would like to accomplish by investing in the change. Possible goals include increased resiliency in coastal areas, the utilization of renewable energy sources, and incentives for energy efficiency. Microgrids, in Dr. Höpfner’s view, are “primarily a way to think differently about how we interact with energy” – namely not as an endless resource, but rather as a finite resource in a limited area. Fraunhofer’s U.S. flagship project is the development of a plug-and-play solar photovoltaic (PV) for American homes. The project is set for five years and funded with 12 million dollars by the Department of Energy SunShot Initiative. Its goal is to make solar energy cost-competitive and reliable. Specifically, the initiative aims to enable homeowners to travel to their local DIY store, buy the necessary plug-and-play solar equipment, install it on their roofs, and have it connect automatically to the area’s grid – all within ten hours.
Brian Jones, Senior Principal for Energy and Utilities at SAP, stated that the demand for a reliable grid will continue to grow – due to an increasing population with a modern-day lifestyle of high energy consumption. Quoting John F. Kennedy, Mr. Jones remarked, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining,” stressing that now is the time to prepare for the future to avoid a repeat of catastrophic outages. It is predicted that the capacity of microgrids in the U.S. will triple between 2010 and 2015. This poses a challenge to the pre-existing utility system, which was initially designed as a one-way grid yet now must transition to a two-way system. Furthermore, due to the high cost of microgrids, such technology is not currently feasible for low-income families or small businesses. The utility enterprise system will also not disappear in the near future as it provides greater reliability and a relatively limitless amount of energy as compared to microgrids. Therefore, microgrids will not become the sole source of energy, but rather will serve as an alternative, offering consumers the chance to be “greener” and more independent.
Jim Gallagher, Executive Director of the New York State Smart Grid Consortium, a unique public-private partnership comprised of major utilities, global scale technology developers, research institutions, and government entities, stressed that his organization’s mission is to “get some real world projects up and running” now rather than just constructing theoretical project roadmaps for years on end. The need is obvious: Four of the five heaviest storms in the city’s history occurred in the past two years and the outages caused by Superstorm Sandy had an estimated direct fiscal impact of 15 billion dollars. The time for change is now. Microgrids can further be utilized to promote a vision for what the grid of the future could look like, as well as the benefits they will provide to those producing, delivering, and consuming energy.