A Commercial Microgrid to Benefit All – The David Johnston R+T Park Microgrid

By Mike Voll 

Local and national Green House Gas (GHG) reduction plans can only be achieved if we harness high penetration levels of renewable energy. Given the variable nature of wind and solar, reliable dependence on this type of energy requires the use of energy storage and microgrids. Stantec is developing a microgrid concept where a small commercial community can participate in a microgrid to provide resiliency, energy cost reduction and energy cost certainty in a setting that could be replicated across North America and beyond. Current energy regulations in North America are evolving to accommodate more self-generation, however, few policies exist that allow communities to generate and share energy in a meaningful and economic way. The concept would allow a more fitting sizing of the Distributed Energy Resources (DER), such that the entire community, rather than just the host facility, can share in the benefits, thus supporting the wider deployment of DERs and achieving larger GHG reductions as per the guidelines of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The proposed host community is the David Johnston Research + Technology Park (R+T Park) and is one of the newest research parks in Canada, located close to the North Campus of the University of Waterloo. This R+T Park is designed to accommodate 1.2 million square feet of office space on 120 acres (49 hectares) of land to house thousands of researchers, create new technology jobs and generate billions of dollars of economic impact. The R+T Park provides a powerfully supportive base for radical high impact research and boasts the fact that 70% of the world’s gross domestic product runs on software and systems created by companies located within the park. The theme by which the park was founded aligns with a sustainable community focus conducive to a microgrid deployment.

A microgrid is simply an energy cluster containing electricity generation, energy storage and an energy resource management system that can operate either connected to the main electricity grid or “islanded” from the electricity grid and run on its own resources for a period of time. The concept proposed for this microgrid would connect up to eleven buildings which are all separately metered by Waterloo North Hydro (WNH) and which also generally have different owners. DERs such as solar PV, energy storage and electric vehicle charging would be deployed to service all participants. In other words, a facility may host more solar than is needed by the facility, in this case, excess solar energy could be provided to other facilities who do not host solar in a type of “energy transaction”. All energy would flow amongst the participants using the existing WNH distribution system. 

The proposed first phase of this effort would connect five buildings with over 1.2 MW of new rooftop and canopy solar and would be serviced by a new feeder-connected 1.2 MW (4MWh) Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) which would be designed to be expanded for coverage of the entire R+T park. The concept is based on a 4-hour system given that longer duration lithium ion-based solutions are not currently commercially viable. The following business cases are proposed for the microgrid:

  • Electricity resiliency and backup power in the event of a utility outage (many of these businesses house data centers which are dependant on 24-hour power);
  • Light Rail Transit (LRT) station backup lighting for commuter safety during power outage or storm event;
  • Electric vehicle charge buffering protection for distribution transformers (it is anticipated to add up to 100 level 2 charging stations);
  • Electric vehicle charging from the BESS during grid outage and storm events;
  • Exploration of facility energy trading via virtual net metering, blockchain energy ledgers or transactive energy; and
  • The provision of a non-wires revenue model for the electricity utility to help foster mass deployment of similar microgrids.

The planned solar PV installations are expected to generate 1,198 MWh of clean, renewable energy annually offsetting approximately 219 tCO2 annually. It is further anticipated that use of the central BESS shall be used to offset peak electricity consumption thus reducing dependency on Ontario’s existing gas peaker plants. Finally, by facilitating up to 100 workplace EV chargers, assuming a 25% utilization factor, this has the potential to eliminate approximately 165 tCO2 annually.

The end goal of this pilot is to enable community-hosted microgrids in both new and existing communities where energy security, energy resiliency and energy cost certainty can be established; and where GHG reduction can be made possible through the right-size microgrid.

This article was edited by Jose Medina.

For a downloadable copy of the June 2018 eNewsletterwhich includes this article, please visit the IEEE Smart Grid Resource Center




Mike Voll is the Global Sector Leader for Stantec’s grid modernization and smart technology services. He has over 30 years of experience with both industrial and power clients serving positions with equipment suppliers, manufacturers, system integrators and the last 15 years with Stantec. In the last 8 years. Mike supported the rehabilitation of Ontario’s electricity system through Stantec’s involvement in over 1GW of solar PV in addition to nearly 50MW of energy storage projects. Mike leads a national EV fast charging program and is also providing thought leadership for key smart city initiatives. Mike is leading a research project to deploy a commercial microgrid for a research park near the University of Waterloo which should pave pathways for mass deployments of community microgrids globally.

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