It’s not just institutions and communities that are getting involved in microgrid projects. Businesses and big corporations are also taking notice of the advantages of deploying microgrids, both to increase resilience against potential outages and to reduce their energy costs. This segment is known as the Commercial and Industrial (C&I) microgrid sector, and as with other microgrid segments, it is growing rapidly.
Commercial and Industrial (C&I) microgrids are unlike other microgrids in that they are primarily aimed at serving the needs of businesses and corporations, rather than being established for a common purpose of interest to the general population or a specific section of the community. This means their primary function is to help those establishing the microgrid make a profit, by cutting the cost of company energy expenditure and preventing revenue/productivity losses incurred during a power outage. The microgrid can also be used to ‘hedge’ prices, in the sense that it can be optimized to use utility-supplied power until the price of energy rises and at that point switches to its own generation.
Microgrid Market Growth
Currently, the C&I segment is growing faster than any other segment deploying microgrids, according to data being collected by Navigant Research. By 2026, Navigant Research has predicted, the C&I microgrid market will be worth $18 billion globally, representing over 35 percent of the overall microgrid market.
In April 2019 for example, Carlyle Group and Schneider Electric formed a partnership called AlphaStruxure, the aim being to take on large projects, such as modernization of JFK International Airport, “utilizing microgrids to enable it to transition from utility power to 100 percent on-site generated renewable energy.” AlphaStruxure will also offer modular energy-as-a-service solutions to microgrid customers.
Schneider Electric also got together with Scale Microgrid Solutions last year in California, following outages experienced during wildfire season. Schneider Electric deployed its Rapid Response Modular Microgrid, or R2M2, solution. This uses the company’s Energy Control Center (ECC), which is a power control center that allows customers to optimize the integration of various technologies, such as battery energy storage and solar PV. The R2M2 also uses Schneider Electric’s cloud-based demand-side management platform EcoStruxure Microgrid Advisor (EMA). This arrangement has the further advantage of allowing customers to expand the microgrid over time.
Big Names Turning To Microgrids
Retail chains are also getting involved. In 2019, summer storms and a heatwave resulted in outages in the New York power supply. However, the big home improvement retailer Home Depot managed to keep their stores in operation, thanks to power sourced from microgrids operated by Bloom Energy based on fuel cells.
Another advantage is that microgrids can be constructed relatively quickly, which means that companies don’t have to wait until a new power plant connected to the grid is built. Also, as the Home Depot experience shows, they can be more resilient in the face of threats to the grid such as those posed by extreme weather events.
In the UK, potential implementation of Balancing Use of System (BSUoS) charges on the grid, which increase the risk of power prices doubling, have also acted to stimulate growth in the microgrid segment, as companies seek to avoid extra power costs.