Home News US Microgrid Market Slowed in 2019. PG&E Could Singlehandedly Reverse the Trend

US Microgrid Market Slowed in 2019. PG&E Could Singlehandedly Reverse the Trend


The burgeoning U.S. microgrid sector is set to install less controllable capability this year than it did last year. But that drawback may establish a temporary blip, especially if a new attempt to back up the beleagured Northern California grid comes into fruition.

The U.S. microgrid economy established a record with 666 megawatts of potential additions in 2018, but job delays and cancellations have fell the most anticipated 2019 complete to 553 megawatts, according to a new report by electricity study firm Wood Mackenzie. The methodology monitors controllable clusters of electricity apparatus capable of powering 100 kilowatts or more for at least 24 hours.

That definition of the normal dwelling solar and battery powered setup, which deals with smaller loads. Nonetheless, it captures an up-and-coming economy of local energy services for universities, large box stores, public centers and military bases. These projects jointly generated an estimated $1.7 billion in funding expenditures in 2019, nearly triple the $645 million invested from the U.S energy storage industry annually.

As more customers become knowledgeable about microgrid alternatives, and more jurisdictions face battering storms and wildfires, the prospects for resilient grid infrastructure appear strong ahead, said report author Isaac Maze-Rothstein.

“We see this, long-term, as a blip, and next year we see a return to growth,” he explained.

Hot in the heels of the report's publication, news emerged to bolster that expansion potential. Utility Pacific Gas & Electric, that went bankrupt for its role in sparking deadly wildfires from Northern California, last week requested an unparalleled microgrid investment.

Groundbreaking opportunity

PG&E has resorted to preemptively shut off power to stop its electric equipment from starting new flames, but that approach interrupts the lives of its customers and financial activity in the area. 

To minimize the impact of electricity shutoffs, PG&E published a request for supplies last week to procure microgrids in 20 hand-picked substations from fire-prone areas. Businesses can bid to have the programs and contract their services to PG&E for ten years, or to construct and move the job to PG&E ownership. The programs will run to the markets and provide grid reliability out of fire season.

A number of elements of the solicitation struck Maze-Rothstein as”surreal,” including the fact that, when the 20 jobs become fact, their joint 522 megawatts will transcend all microgrids developed from the U.S. so far in 2019. Individual job peak load demands vary into 70 megawatts from 5 megawatts.

Then there's the timeline: PG&E needs the programs up and running by next fire season; it asks for systems online by June 2020, or even September at the latest.

“The shortest timeline I hear for microgrids is nine months, and many are multiple years, from announcement to completion,” Maze-Rothstein mentioned.

And any contracts awarded are conditioned on approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (standard for a grid investment like this) and also the Bankruptcy Court (not normal). Not only must sprint to finish building they must do this.

Maybe most unexpected, though, PG&E is skipping the time-honored utility procedure of studiously dispensing new technology for many years before deploying them more commercially. As of November, GTM reported, PG&E's microgrid ambitions consisted of a not-yet-finished grant-funded demonstration project in Humboldt County. The usefulness 's appetite for trying new items expanded ravenously from the intervening weeks, since it grapples with a protracted grid crisis.

“These are not science experiments,” Maze-Rothstein explained. “PG&E has confirmed this is the best resource that they see available in the timeline they have before the next fire season.”

Ample experience elsewhere

Though controlled utilities have appeared at microgrids since novelties to study, private sector companies have been selling and installing them for decades. The market report sheds light on what these systems look like.

Fossil fueled technology, namely petrol and natural gas (including fuel cells), accounted for 88 percent of microgrid capacity installed in 2019, Maze-Rothstein calculated. Those firm resources are needed to guarantee run times, like the four or even five days PG&E requested for. 

But that's nameplate capacity. A amount of microgrids utilize solar and battery powered storage techologies too. Additionally, there 's an economic situation for dispatching solar in a backup situation, since it does not have any gas cost to function, then burning gas or gas only if necessary. 

Solar helps microgrid economics by producing cheap power on a daily basis, paying down some of the expense of backup energy. The majority of the solar installed in microgrids this year went to army bases.

Geographically, the Southeast led the nation in installments that were microgrid, followed closely by the Southwest. Commercial deals by firms like PowerSecure and Enchanted Rock predominate those two regions. They back up properties that are industrial that power outages don ' t force a reduction of business.

Microgrids capable of backing up entire communities, like the ones PG&E is contemplating, remain infrequent. And also the West Coast has seen relatively small microgird growth of any kind (though California is a leader in small solar-plus-storage). 

PG&E won't have a flourishing community microgrid industry to predict, then, but throughout the nation companies have already assembled at scale. The challenge is to secure financing to deal with a bankrupt business, rush through all the required approvals and enabling, then get systems assembled and commissioned for the 2020 fire period. Land acquisition won't be a battle, since PG&E is supplying it.

If PG&E pulls off this if not all 20 reach completion, it could provide the proof of concept that the energy storage business achieved after the Aliso Canyon gas flow. This was when California fast-tracked battery powered deployments, in a matter of months, to compensate for limited gas capacity from the southern region of the country.

“There’s never been a procurement from a utility for microgrids on this scale,” Maze-Rothstein explained. “The shift in thinking — from microgrids are a pilot to be explored versus a commercial solution to be deployed — that is the parallel I see with Aliso Canyon.”

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