SOCO Invests $431M to Address the Energy Needs of the Future

In February 2016, the energy industry saw PowerSecure merge with one of North America’s largest Investor-Owned Utility, Southern Company (SOCO). In a statement, SOCO CEO, Thomas Fanning, stated that “there is demand for distributed infrastructure solutions that best meet each customer’s unique energy needs.” SOCO and its subsidiaries serve more than 4 million customers throughout the Southeastern area of the United States. Geographically located in an area that experienced some of the worst superstorms in the past decade, it is clear why SOCO made a large investment in distributed infrastructure.

With microgrids, utilities can increase their visibility and optimize many facets of the grid when combined with behind-the-meter capabilities for grid resiliency. These improved capabilities allow utilities to use microgrids for Demand Response (DR) needs, as a smarter way to integrate Distributed Energy Resources (DER), and to minimize carbon footprints. In each scenario, a heavy influence is how customers are driving utilities to address their unique needs and as a result, utilities are turning to microgrids to address these needs.

Beyond the immediate needs of customers, utilities are exploring how microgrids can increase reliability and resiliency to address regulation requirements, improve reliability in specific geographic areas, or to offer better economic investments for all affected stakeholders. As the technology continues to improve, the energy industry will continue to experience the disruption of microgrids. In 2017, it is apparent that taking part in a DER future and building a better energy infrastructure will be critical for the future of utilities.

Mexico Prepares for Solar Future

Mexico is moving toward developing more solar power in the near future. The country is projected to have 30-40GW of solar PV installations by 2040, which would put Mexico’s renewable output at 37% of their overall electricity generated. This outlook looks even more promising when many are predicting the price of solar PV to drop significantly in the next few decades.

The move to solar is an extension of Mexico’s Reforma Energetica, an agenda of reforms introduced by Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto in 2013. The plan includes an ambitious agenda of Mexico Energy Reforms covering a variety of social and economic areas. Since 2013, most of these transformations have already been implemented or are under way, and the newly formed Mercado Eléctrico Mayorista has had a successful start.

Mexico Energy Reform aims to achieve a more secure, efficient, and sustainable energy supply. In fact, as part of the North American alliance, Mexico, the U.S., and Canada recently unveiled a commitment to see half of North America’s electricity generated from clean sources by 2025. The U.S. and Mexico also signed an agreement in January 2016 that will not only extend grid interconnection, but also promote reliability and renewable energy in both countries.

Read more about the role of renewables in the Mexico Energy Market here.

Wind Turbines Power Scotland for Days

In December 2016, Scotland’s wind turbines produced a record amount of energy from December 23 – December 26. The energy produced was enough to power all of Scotland’s 6 million+ homes and more – with energy supply exceeding demand each day. December 24 alone produced a record 74,000MWh – fulfilling 132% of the country’s energy demand.

Wind turbines are a sophisticated technology that use the kinetic energy produced from the blades’ rotations to generate electrical power. Wind turbines vary greatly and can rotate either horizontally or vertically, as well as operate with or without blades. The startup cost for larger turbines is generally in the millions. Though the upfront cost is steep, the investment is more than worthwhile, with turbines cutting down on both electricity bills and carbon emissions. Small wind turbines are another option, though they would operate as a supplement to an existing grid rather than a primary energy generator.

Wind energy is gaining speed at a rapid pace in the UK. A study by Carbon Brief found that wind energy had a greater output than coal in the UK in 2016 for the first time ever. The UK is also building offshore wind farms that are delivering promising results.

Wind energy will require the funds, cooperation, and innovation to really get off the ground in and outside of the UK, but the technology is evolving with great potential. Click here to read how OATI is integrating a wind turbine in our new Microgrid Technology Center.

Environmental Sustainability Makes Microgrids the Wave of the Future

Environmental sustainability refers to continuous improvement on carbon emissions and relies on electrical generation resources to be evenly obtained, used and renewed to make them actually sustainable. Two examples of how technology is influencing environmental sustainability are the island of Ta’u in the American Samoa and Denham, Australia.

Ta’u has become almost 100% reliant on renewable energy for its close to 800 inhabitants. Ta’u previously consumed 300 gallons of fuel per day to run diesel generators for power on the island. Thanks to microgrid technology, the incorporation of a solar array, and 60 Tesla Powerpacks, which provide 6 megawatt- hours of energy storage, there is enough power to sustain the island for three days without sunlight.

In the 1990s, Australia shifted to utilizing and growing their use of renewable energy to reduce costs and wasted resources. They began providing grants to encourage renewable energy use. The Renewable Energy Showcase grant, from the Australian Greenhouse Office, was awarded to the remote town of Denham, Australia in 1998. The grant allowed Denham to integrate a wind-diesel power system and utilize early microgrid technology to offset and lower the costs of diesel fuel in order to sustain the local population. Renewable energy has since evolved and become more affordable. Since then, other areas throughout Australia have followed suit and applied for similar grants to integrate solar and microgrid technologies for increased environmental sustainability.

The use of microgrids by an isolated island, or a remote location in Australia, not only saves on fuel costs, but also allows those remote areas to be self-sustainable.

Will microgrids significantly reduce or replace the use of conventional energy resources like diesel fuel globally? That question will remain to be answered as technology and costs to sustain microgrids changes.


Island in the Sun

How to integrate wind into a microgrid

Microgrids Around the World: Arctic Circle Microgrids

Microgrid projects are popping up across the globe, but colder climates, particularly those located in the Arctic Circle, are uniquely poised for microgrid development. Alaska, for example, has a large rural population that live in remote areas, including islands. Without microgrids, these remote areas are heavily reliant on diesel fuel. It can be cumbersome, costly, and even dangerous to deliver the fuel, not to mention harmful to the environment. In fact, areas in the Arctic Circle are especially susceptible to the effects of global warming. Higher temperatures mean ice is melting, permafrost is thawing, and coasts are eroding.

It is no surprise, then, that Alaska has already built 140 microgrids – 12 percent of the world’s microgrids. The state is still mostly reliant on fossil fuels, but the microgrid market is growing. In fact, by 2014 Alaska’s Kodiak Island generated nearly 100 percent of its power from renewable energy. Alaska and other Arctic regions have ample opportunity for wind energy, as their climate has a lot of wind output. Other microgrids are using hydropower, solar, and biomass.

Iceland’s topography presents a unique opportunity for geothermal generation. The country has over 200 volcanoes, which are being harnessed for geothermal energy. Moreover, its many rivers are being utilized for hydropower. These natural resources are helping the country generate nearly 100% of their electricity from renewable sources. Countries like Norway, Sweden, and Finland also utilize their natural resources to produce biomass and hydropower.

While other technologies like storage need to be developed for further proliferation, the Microgrid market in the Arctic Circle is projected to grow rapidly over the coming years and decades.

What Makes Utility-Owned Microgrids Different Than Other Microgrids?

Microgrids are one of the most talked about disruptions to the energy industry in the 21st century. According to a recent GTM Research report, the energy industry experienced noticeable increases in mixed-owned microgrids, microgrids owned by third parties, and municipal or community microgrids in 2016. However, end users or privately-owned microgrids represented the largest ownership and development of microgrids in the United States.

There is no denying that many stakeholders, states, and businesses adopted microgrids at an early stage, whereas utilities have been more cautious. The same GTM Research report also shows utility-owned microgrids increasing. Utilities such as Exelon, Duke Energy, National Grid, Pacific Gas and Electric (PGE), Southern Company, Xcel Energy, and American Energy Company (AEP) have recently been active with community microgrid projects, microgrid proposals, acquisitions, and partnerships. The growth of utility-owned microgrids is a great transition in the energy industry because utilities have the capability to be in front-of-the-meters. As an asset, microgrids can improve reliability, provide better control and visibility of peak demands, and integrate renewable generations.

Utilities are harnessing local energy to control overloads on the grid systems, such as focusing on distributed energy resources (DER) and demand response to address intermediate disruptions. As a result, utility-owned microgrids can be great attributes at distribution levels. This new change to utility-owned microgrids is contributing to the non-wire alternatives (NWA) phenomenon. In the past few years, large scale initiatives, like New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), are promoting the utility reception of microgrid technologies and leveraging them into assets.

As we enter a new year, the energy industry will continue to see an increase in the microgrid market, and the continual growth of utility-owned microgrids. Check in next time when we talk about the difference of privately-owned microgrids.

Microgrid Technology Center Update

OATI is anxiously awaiting the grand opening of the Microgrid Technology Center. In its final stages, the building is receiving finishing touches and the commissioning of the building is in full gear. The commissioning process has included complex configurations, equipment start-ups, controls testing, and integrated testing.

The building is near completion on the outside. The alluring glass and concrete exterior hides the twists of pipes, CHP system, networking lines, and complex microgrid system. Inside the Microgrid Technology Center, carpet, tile, interior glass, light fixtures, and other finishes are putting the final touches to the facility.

When complete, the building will stand on its own as a work of architectural and engineering accomplishment, but you don’t have to take our word for it. Read about the OATI Microgrid Technology Center from Midwest Energy News

AEP Requests $52 Million to Build Microgrids in Ohio

The development of microgrid technology has revolutionized the way power is produced and consumed. For many large end-use customers, the need to keep power generation local, cheap, and reliable is now part of their growth strategy — especially when they have critical power needs that must remain functioning at all times.

The growing interest in microgrids, as well as other distributed energy resources (DERs), is understandably worrisome for many utilities due to the effects on their operations and business model. At the same time, many utilities are beginning to realize the intrinsic benefits of microgrids, especially their capability to help improve system-wide resiliency and reliability in extreme conditions.

American Electric Power (AEP) wants to help build resilient critical facilities and reduce the carbon footprint around Columbus, Ohio. AEP proposed a $52 Million plan to Ohio regulators in November of 2016 which includes microgrids that will support hospitals, shelters, water plants, and more. For a connection fee, surrounding buildings can also connect to the microgrids in order to have backup generation and improved integration of DERs.

The proposal is part of AEP’s Electric Security Plan and will produce eight to ten microgrids over the next four years. AEP plans to power each microgrid with solar, energy storage, and natural-gas turbines. AEP estimates that proposed microgrids can shave more than 3,110 tons of greenhouse gases a year in Columbus, Ohio.

Similarly to AEP’s planned microgrids, OATI’s Microgrid Technology Center also incorporates solar, energy storage, and a Capstone natural-gas turbine which will generate 600 kW of energy. Our next blog will include an update on the OATI Microgrid Technology Center.

A Year in Review: The OATI Microgrid Technology Center in 2016


Firmly committed to developing and maintaining a deep understanding of key concepts in the energy sector, OATI embarked to build its own microgrid from the ground up. The OATI Microgrid Technology Center will function as a tool for identifying challenges and successes for implementing, documenting actual performance results, and defining ongoing operational requirements including maintenance and transactional energy management.

The facility broke ground in Q3 of 2014 and progressed rapidly over the past year. It is now on the final stages of commissioning and nearing completion. OATI hosted the first official tours during the IEEE ISGT Conference in September and began commissioning in late fall.

We appreciate all who have followed along and supported us as we further our commitment to developing Smart Energy solutions. Stay tuned for more updates as the facility is placed into production operations as part of the OATI Private Cloud.

Scroll down to view photos of the construction on the facility throughout 2016.

April 2016

June 2016

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October 2016

How Microgrids Can Improve Grid Security

When more than 50 million people in the Northeastern United States and parts of Canada woke up on Thursday, August 14, 2003, they probably had no idea that mere hours later a harmless little tree branch would wipe out their power for days. It didn’t help matters that a software bug would prevent the system operators from detecting the incident soon enough, thereby leading to an overload of power flowing to a defunct line. Rightfully so, this outage led to sweeping reforms to help make the grid more resilient.

Fast forward 12 years and the U.S. electrical grid still faces challenges, only this time the threat is not simply a tree branch. Rather, the threat is malicious cyber actors who intend to cause mass panic, prolonged outages, or some other nefarious purpose. In fact, a report by the Technical Resource for Incident Prevention found that cyberattacks are on the rise, and “energy organizations are experiencing a disproportionately large increase when compared to other industries.” For example, Ukraine’s electrical grid was attacked in December of 2015 by cyber hackers, leaving 225,000 without power and prompting the Department of Homeland Security to warn that a similar attack could occur in the U.S. Based on this data, it’s no surprise that securing the grid has become a prominent concern, especially with regard to cyberterrorism.

When it comes to security, especially grid security, reliability is paramount and maintaining system operation is one of the most important objectives for any system operator. Having mitigated the formidable threat of tree branches through sweeping reforms, system operators and the public must now consider new ways to ensure grid resilience and security. One approach is utilizing microgrids.

Currently, the grid is configured around a few large nodes and if a cyber threat is able to disable even one of those nodes they could leave millions without electricity. To mitigate this risk, some are advocating that the country’s current grid system should be made more dispersed by supplementing the few large interconnected nodes with thousands of smaller, independent microgrids.

Unlike the current grid, a microgrid relies on its own power generation resources and distribution networks. The system can be as small as a single building, like the OATI Microgrid Technology Center, or as big as a neighborhood. Having hundreds or thousands of microgrids working together with the existing few large nodes would make destroying an entire system more difficult, as thousands of systems would have to be destroyed, versus the few that exist now.

You see, the next time a tree branch decides to take out a transmission line, or a cyber threat tries to compromise the grid, the microgrid could continue to produce energy and still provide power to end consumers. While this is convenient for casual users, it is absolutely critical for hospitals, data centers, telecoms, and other significant, “must have” services.

Building microgrids into the next generation electric grid will help ensure that everyone enjoys the increased likelihood of waking up every single day knowing that a tree branch, or cyber threat, is most likely not going to shut down a large portion of the nation’s power grid.