Big picture thinking, Part II: lab to market!

University of California San Diego takes microgrids to the world

Phil Carson | Jul 21, 2011

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Yesterday, Byron Washom, director of strategic energy initiatives at the University of California San Diego, described how the UCSD microgrid is evolving to serve a variety of different purposes and how UCSD's findings can be transferred to benefit others. Today we focus on the components of UCSD's microgrid and how that system fits with the local  utility and independent system operator. 

The UCSD's microgrid is powered by a generation portfolio that includes a combined heat-and-power plant (CHP) that earned a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Star Award in 2010, a natural gas-fired, steam-driven turbine and solar photovoltaics. This fall, a 2.8 megawatt fuel cell will come on line thanks to the Directed Biogas program in California that allows the utilization of currently flared methane gas from a wastewater treatment plant.

In terms of energy efficiency, campus buildings have been optimized for active control of lighting, heating, cooling, and their computer, mechanical and plug-in loads. All of those elements across a campus that serves 45,000 people each day are metered and monitored, delivering more than 67,000 data streams per second to a central point for analysis.

The current microgrid that self generates 82 percent of its electricity is saving UCSD over $800,000 per month in energy costs, according to Washom. Reliability and power quality may have been the main drivers of UCSD's microgrid but "the business case has exceeded UCSD's expectations," he told me. 
 
A laundry list of microgrid elements is unnecessary to enumerate here, but the microgrid team at UCSD is beta testing an upgrade of the system to integrate an automated controller that can optimize on an hourly basis the disparate elements to increase security, improve efficiencies, gain greater savings and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

"Think of it as an orchestra with a variety of different instruments," Washom said. "There's a power generation section, a storage section, a load section and 'imports'—a whole variety of different players. Standing in the middle is the conductor, in our case, a microgrid master controller from Power Analytics."

On an hourly basis, a Viridity platform takes account of every player and dynamic market price signals and it "recomposes the sheet music for this conductor" based on a granular analysis of the 67,000 real-time data streams managed by OSIsoft PI software, Washom said. "So we will be re-scheduling and re-optimizing how we perform on an hourly basis. This new level of orchestration embracing IT will improve our electricity savings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

I asked about the future of microgrids and their interaction with the centralized power structure so familiar today.

"There are two perspectives there," he told me. "San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is one of our strongest supporters. They're developing a microgrid of their own at Borrego Springs. They can envision a proliferation of microgrids as a strong technical and economic case for their customers. We have a number of initiatives with SDG&—that's a very positive relationship.

"On top of that is the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), and they have a keen interest in the proliferation of microgrids," Washom said. "We have a relationship with them where they will by the end of this year be observing, in real-time, all the rescheduling and re-optimization that we do on an hourly basis—our gymnastics. It's called Deep Situational Awareness. They can view what's going on with our microgrid system on campus. And the more they know, the more familiar they become with us, and the more confidence they will have in using a microgrid as a load balancing asset in the future."

And down the road?

"In the microgrids of the future, the volumes of data and the speeds of data are going to grow dramatically," Washom said. "And that will bring new IT technologies. The time that you bid into the market will drop from a day ahead to an hour ahead to 15 minutes ahead and, eventually, perhaps, to five minutes ahead. So, more data, higher speeds and shorter timeframes will be the smart grid of the future. It'll be a data-centric world."

Phil Carson
Editor-in-chief
Intelligent Utility Daily
pcarson@energycentral.com
303-228-4757

 

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