The energy industry has been going through a revolution, and more and more businesses are looking to transition from non-renewable fossil fuel energy sources such as coal and oil to renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydroelectric energy. There are a plethora of reasons for this shift, but there are three issues that are cited most often when deciding on moving ahead with sustainable energy.
The issues at hand include:
- Increasing cost of energy.
- Sustainability goals and mandates.
- Declining reliability.
Electricity prices across the United States and Canada have been steadily increasing over the past two decades, and that trajectory is not showing any signs of slowing down. Similarly, transmission and distribution costs have increased by 50% in the past decade. This includes the cost of land, substation equipment, utility poles, conductors, transformers, customer meters, and other costs that come with electricity distribution. These rising prices are enough to convince many businesses to turn to distributed energy sources such as microgrids, as a way to cut costs.
Switching to renewable energy becomes even more attractive when a significant number of states have adopted sustainability mandates. More than a dozen states have established 100% clean electricity targets, and more than 30 states have renewable portfolio standards, a regulatory mandate to increase the production of energy from renewable sources. So even if some businesses weren’t considering transitioning to renewable energy sources, they may not have a choice in the long term.
Arguably more impactful than the increasing cost of energy and sustainability mandates is the declining reliability of nonrenewable power sources. If you ignore the outright and increasing cost of nonrenewable energy, its unreliability has proven to be costly in and of itself. According to the most recent State of Commercial & Industrial Power Reliability report, economic losses from outages in the United States have been reaching $150 billion each year. An analysis by Frost & Sullivan breaks this down further by uncovering that 35% percent of companies experience a power blink at least once a week, and 79% of companies experience weekly outages. The cost averages $50,000 per outage. These numbers don’t begin to scratch the surface in regions that are more susceptible to extended outages from wildfires, hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters.
So, while the cost of energy and meeting sustainability mandates is a regular conversation at the table, a power system’s ability to reliably support business operations is often the most important driver for a company to transition to renewable distributed energy. The Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians knows the detrimental impact a non-reliable power source can cause.
The Bad River Tribe
Located on the south shore of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin, the Bad River tribe was served by a single line of electricity from the utility grid. They had discussed changing their power source to renewable/distributed energy for years, but it wasn’t until their electricity failed them that they actively sought to transition to something more reliable. In October 2016, the tribe was hit with torrential rains that flooded the Bad River reservation and made bridges and roadways inaccessible. That single point of failure left them without power for days, crippling critical tribal facilities and severely impacting their livelihood.
Through time, hard work and perseverance, the Bad River tribe overcame their hardships and rebuilt from the flooding. With their eyes on the future, they were determined to replace their power source with a system that would provide solutions to the three key issues they, like others, had been facing: increasing cost, declining reliability and the desire for more sustainable power. They looked to sources that had the technology to allow them to control utility spending, ideally using renewable energy. But more than anything, they looked to replace their single source of power with a resilient distributed energy source so that they would never again be left for days without power. After thorough research, the tribe chose to partner with EnTech Solutions on a microgrid solution using their microgrid technology which offered solutions to all three issues.
Using Microgrid Technology
EnTech Solutions installed Xcape and DCentrIQ, two agile microgrid solutions that can harness power from four sub-systems:
- Utility grid
Like many microgrid systems, this technology is designed to harness the power of solar energy and store excess energy in the battery system. When solar power is unavailable due to cloud cover or at night, the microgrid technology switches to using the power stored in the battery system. The systems are grid-tied and engineered to ensure the highest value, least expensive and most reliable electricity is in real-time sourced from every available resource and can island and continue to use distributed energy resources during grid outages without being tied to the utility grid. These four sub-systems work together to provide the security of a reliable and uninterrupted power supply.
For the Bad River tribe, work to build the renewable energy system on the reservation was completed in March 2021 (watch a video of the project here). The system currently consists of three microgrid sites to supply renewable solar energy and energy storage to the tribe’s administrative building, wastewater treatment plant and health and wellness center. For smaller scale microgrids like the one used in the administrative building, EnTech Solutions installed their Xcape technology which can generate 18 kilowatts (kW). For the wastewater treatment plant and health & wellness center, each of which requires larger solutions, EnTech installed its DCentrlQ microgrid. Together, the units installed at Bad River leverage a combined 500-kilowatt hours (kWh) of solar generation and more than one-megawatt hour (MWh) of battery storage. This technology has given the tribe control of their energy costs, utilizes the renewable energy they were striving for and provides an uninterrupted energy source to support their critical infrastructure. But they are looking forward to the long-term benefits their new system provides too.
EnTech Energy Center
A closer look into the inner workings of the Xcape or DCentrIQ system will show the intelligence built into the microgrid. EnTech Energy Center technology is the key component that operates and maintains microgrids. Similar to the human central nervous system, this technology provides immediate performance information to help determine how to prioritize and utilize the energy in real-time, ensuring the user is receiving the highest value, least expensive and most reliable electricity from all available resources.
EnTech Energy Center technology has edge- and cloud-based capabilities that work hand-in-hand with artificial intelligence and machine learning. Because it is connected to a world-class technology stack, also known as a data ecosystem or a list of all the technology services used to build and run one single application, the system is proactively learning to address issues before they become actual problems. This allows for a smooth and consistent performance among all assets within the power system, regardless of how they are configured, emphasizing the need for reliable power knowing that there is inherent variability that comes from renewable energy sources.
Overall, pairing the EnTech Energy Center (EEC) technology with the company’s microgrid solutions ensures that there is operational and financial optimization within the system, whether it is operating in a utility grid-tied environment or completely off-grid. So, while utility prices, rate structures, policies and load scenarios remain dynamic, EEC will be able to recognize those changes and alert the user of opportunities to re-optimize the system.
The Bad River tribe went from a utility energy grid with a single point of access to an intelligent, sustainable and resilient energy system that provides remote operational management with real-time digital access, making it always accessible by trained energy experts. The power controls that are set by the tribe determine how they utilize the energy, helping them control utility costs while having the most reliable electricity available to them at every second of every day from every available energy resource. Another severe storm and flood will not be detrimental to their electrical power and data gathered from the EnTech Energy Center technology will be applied to a planned second phase of their project to further support the energy needs of additional facilities on the reservation.
The energy industry is going through a revolution. While companies are transitioning from non-renewable fossil fuel energy sources to renewable distributed energy resources for many different reasons, the main driver is the desire and need for a reliable energy source that can support their business. EnTech Solutions’ Xcape and DCentrIQ technology was the right solution for the reservation of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians. For others, the resiliency, intelligence, expandability, and on-demand access of distributed energy systems could be the long-term solution to their issues as well.
—Dan Nordloh is senior vice president and general manager of EnTech Solutions, where he provides strategic direction and leads the organization’s distributed energy services.
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