The microgrid project every city should wish for (but it's going to Potsdam first)

Wed, 2014-12-17 06:00 -- SCC Staff

With help from Council Lead Partner General Electric, the township of Potsdam, New York will be piloting a resiliency strategy that has great relevance to any city vulnerable to ice storms, hurricanes or other natural disasters.

Many cities feel powerless against such events, which can interrupt electric power for hours or days. In fact, there are at least two steps a city can take: 1) put key assets underground and 2) implement a self-sufficient microgrid that can continue operation even if the main grid goes down. Potsdam will be doing both, as you will read below.

This particular pilot is notable for the full involvement of the regional utility (National Grid). That gives hope that the lessons learned will quickly be applied to other towns in its service territory. If you are not served by National Grid, then print out this story and wave it in front of your local utility. Tell them you want reliability and resilience too. And then offer to help them find the funding to make such projects happen in your region too. -- Jesse Berst

Fueled by a $1.2 million grant from the Department of Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability and a $300,000 investment from GE, the Potsdam project will allow for the development of an Enhanced Microgrid Control System (eMCS) designed to be the key element in keeping the town’s electricity system up and running for several days should it become disconnected from the main power station.

The project will also help utilities, like National Grid, better leverage distributed energy resources (DER), such as solar, hydropower and thermal, in a microgrid scenario. 

“The microgrid control system that my team will be developing will bring these renewable power sources online and effectively manage them, along with other traditional generation resources, to improve the reliability and efficiency of the main power grid while helping ensure stable backup power in the event of a blackout,” said Sumit Bose, principal investigator on the project and microgrid technology leader at GE Global Research. “It’s a vital component and critical to the system’s resiliency and overall performance.”

GE researchers will develop the eMCS with two main goals in mind: to provide resilient, high-quality power delivery to the local community and efficient, reliable grid services to the local utility. The program will be closely aligned with the specific energy needs and power resources available in and around Potsdam, with the option to include resources like 3 megawatts (MW) of combined heat & power generators, 2MW of solar photovoltaic, 2MW of energy storage and 900kW or more of hydro-electric generation.

Multiple partners join the project
In addition to GE, the DOE and National Grid, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a Council Advisor, and Clarkson University are also partnering on the project in Potsdam, a village near the Canadian border which is prone to ice storms that could damage utility lines and other above-ground power infrastructure.

The initiative will augment the community’s plans to construct a new underground system for power and communications during emergency situations.  This system would connect approximately 12 entities, including emergency service providers, utilities, power generation sources, and staging areas, along with housing, fuel, and food providers.

"New York State's North Country is a region where we have first-hand knowledge of the tremendous impact that weather can have on our utilities' infrastructure," said Clarkson University President Tony Collins. "So, we are excited to be partnering in research that will have an impact not only on Clarkson's neighbors, but also on communities like Potsdam around our state and nation, where severe weather can be disruptive to lives and commerce."

Microgrids already making a difference
In 2012, SuperStorm Sandy, one of the most deadly and destructive hurricanes in American history, caused widespread damage to power lines, leaving over six million customers without electricity. During the storm and its aftermath, microgrids, with their local distributed energy resources, were able to sustain hospitals and other relief operations for more than two days, until grid power was restored.

The two-year Potsdam project will begin with 18 months of engineering and design at GE Global Research, followed by a sixth-month testing period at NREL where a microgrid simulating the infrastructure needs in Potsdam will be set up.

“Microgrids support a flexible and efficient electric grid, enabling the integration of renewable and distributed energy resources such as wind and solar energy; combined heat and power; energy storage; and demand response,” said Bryan Hannegan, NREL’s Associate Director for Energy Systems Integration. “NREL is excited to be working with GE to accelerate the development of microgrids that can provide a reliable, affordable, and sustainable electricity supply.”


Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to learn about the benefits you receive when you join the Council for free. Follow @Jesse_Berst and connect on LinkedIn.

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