Developing Electricity System Innovation Partnership Opportunities in the Northeast

On May 17, a diverse set of stakeholders from across the Northeast clean energy industry came together at Veolia North America in Boston for two NECEC events event focused on microgrids and electricity system innovation partnerships. The day began with “Microgrids - A Model for Innovative Partnerships,” the latest edition of NECEC’s Emerging Trends Series, followed by NECEC’s Electricity System Innovative Partnership Summit. Attendees at both events included clean energy technology firms, startups, state and local governments, utilities, customers, and academics.

The Emerging Trends Series panel on microgrids included Mike Byrnes, Senior Vice President, Veolia Solutions & COO of SourceOne; Galen Nelson, Senior Director, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center; Tim Herbert, COO and Executive Vice President, Energy New England; and, John Baker, Associate Vice Chancellor Facilities Management, University of Massachusetts Medical School. Mike Byrnes kicked off the discussion with an exploration of the economic, cyber security, and resiliency advantages of microgrids. Microgrids can help manage budget while also providing a disconnect from the grid during severe weather events and blackouts. This disconnect, or “islanding,” is essential for places like hospitals and emergency response stations to keep running. John Baker explained that UMass Medical School includes 400 trauma beds that need to be fully operational at all times. With no room for error in the event of a power outage, the hospital relies on its microgrid for electricity, heating and cooling.

Similarly, Tim Hebert explained that if microgrids are implemented, then severe weather events will become a non-issue for municipalities from an energy standpoint.  He pointed to recent Nor’easters as an example of where microgrids could have been beneficial. Finally, Galen Nelson spoke to the role of microgrids in Boston’s recent bid to Amazon. He shared that cities are seeing a convergence of urban and energy planning as a new discipline with microgrids at its core. With this discipline in mind, Boston was able to make a substantial offer to Amazon that the city will be clean and resilient, thus attracting top talent.

Building on the themes of the morning panel, NECEC’s Electricity System Innovation Partnership Summit sought to address questions including how are clean energy business models evolving, and what potential partnership opportunities are out there?

The Summit featured a panel discussion with speakers Johanna Ghabour, Senior Project Manager, Hudson Yards, SourceOne, a Veolia Company; Chris Bleuher, Business Development Manager, Schneider Electric; Steve Cowell, President, E4TheFuture; and Daniel Hullah, Vice President, GE Ventures. All the panelists spoke to the necessity of partnerships for microgrids to succeed. For example, Johanna Ghabour and Steve Cowell discussed the growing relationships between utilities and microgrid customers. While their customer bases differ, they both stressed that communication is the most effective tool for overcoming the challenges associated with implementation. Johanna explained how CondEd agreed to the installation of microgrid breakers at Hudson Yards and that the electrical generation at the central plant is net metered to the tenants during normal operations through ConEd’s system. In the case of a grid outage, the system can island and shed load to provide tenants who have opted into the reliability offering to maintain their operations.  Steve described a novel approach to microgrids in Worcester that may utilize the central plant of a university, coupled with the adjoining neighborhood and city infrastructure, to provide multiple benefits to the diverse stakeholders.

Daniel Hullah and Chris Bleuher brought different, business development minded perspectives to microgrids. Daniel explained that there needs to be a change in mindsets for microgrids to become a commercially available system. He cited the work of Sonnen, a German company, as an example of such a change. Chris spoke about Schneider Electric’s experience developing microgrids, including having no business model to work with on their first project. They now have three microgrids and a standard business model for development.

The Summit wrapped up with a “fireside” chat between Peter Rothstein, President, NECEC; Andrea Woefel, Plant Manager and Chief Engineer, Biogen and Veolia; and Mike Cheney, Senior Director, Facilities, Biogen. In 2005, Biogen began self-generating energy in their 5 MW combined heat and power system that is the backbone to Biogen’s highly resilient energy infrastructure at its Kendall Square Cambridge location. This microgrid services multiple buildings with power and steam and has islanding capabilities, as well as interconnection to the Eversource electrical grid and Veolia’s steam network. The project has provided Biogen with much needed reliability/resiliency, positive return on investment in less than five years and reduced their carbon footprint. Their conversation highlighted the partnership between Veolia and Biogen’s cogeneration plant, which Mike and Andrea agree benefits both parties. Andrea stressed that the excellent communication between the companies is allowing both to strive towards a cleaner future. Mike further noted that without Veolia, the Biogen plant most likely would not have been built.

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Albert Good

Albert is NECEC's Partnership and Development Intern.