Navigant Research Blog

Monetizing Energy Efficiency: Creating Additional Value Streams for Your Customers

— December 8, 2017

Much is transforming the global energy landscape these days. Building technologies are progressing from single point solutions to system and platform-based solutions utilizing the latest in smart digital technologies and the Internet of Things. Utilities are reshaping entire business models and strategies to integrate and enable a swiftly growing and diverse stock of distributed energy resources. These are just two of the more visible market evolutions. But as with most industry transformations, change does not happen all at once.

Large groups of buildings (of all sizes) lie along the continuum of advancement with regard to building technologies. Most organizations realize the potential benefits of energy efficiency; however, there are still hurdles that could prevent these types of projects from moving forward. According to a recent Navigant Research report, Energy Efficient Buildings Global Outlook, these hurdles include confusion about which technologies to adopt, what internal resources would be required to manage an advanced building, and how to best understand and calculate payback and ROI to get a project approved.

On the supply side, utilities are also realizing the benefits of making the buildings in their service territories more efficient. Utilities must be concerned with their conglomeration of generation assets to ensure a reliable future energy supply. Energy efficiency and demand-side management (DSM) are two ways that utilities manage this critical task. In fact, at less than 3 cents/kWh, energy efficiency is the most cost-effective source of energy compared to all other sources of generation.

For decades, utilities have had success reaching large commercial and industrial and even residential customers with incentive-based DSM programs like energy efficiency and demand response. PJM is an example of a regional transmission organization (RTO) that understands and actively pursues energy efficiency initiatives to include in its regional capacity planning. Over time, PJM has encouraged over a gigawatt of annual energy efficiency projects in its current and future capacity markets.

The one hurdle faced by utilities and RTOs is awareness of these programs. Small- to medium-sized businesses, energy service companies (ESCOs), and even larger commercial customers may not be fully aware of the availability of these programs. Incentives can go a long way toward clearing energy efficiency project hurdles. For example, utility and RTO incentives may be the final project piece that enables payback and ROI calculations to meet internal financial requirements. Organizations can benefit from working with outside specialists in this area to help understand what is available and how best to assess and include incentives in efficiency and sustainability initiatives.

Join the Conversation

Navigant Research is hosting a free webinar, Monetizing Energy Efficiency: Creating Additional Value Streams for Your Customers, on December 12 at 2 p.m. EST. I will be joined by Meg Kelly, Senior Director of Energy Efficiency, and Russ Newbold, Director of Sales Operations at CPower. Learn the benefits of utilizing PJM capacity credits as a value to you and your customers.

The webinar will help end-use customers—and ESCOs that serve customers—learn what capacity credits are, how to attain them, and how to make them a part of the value chain to earn more energy efficiency project business. This webinar will outline how to benefit from these credits and, for ESCOs, how to add value to proposals all the way through receiving the payments.

 

Is Finland Europe’s Best Hope for Microgrids?

— December 7, 2017

While Europe is considered a global leader in moving toward a low carbon energy future, the tightly regulated EU markets have several features that severely limit the development of microgrids:

  • The focus has been on large-scale renewable energy development such as offshore wind, which requires massive investment in transmission infrastructure.
  • Deployment of distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar PV has primarily been based on feed-in tariffs, a business model precluding the key defining feature of a microgrid—the ability to seal off resources from the larger grid via islanding.
  • EU markets are tightly interwoven and methods to address the variability of renewables such as wind and solar lean toward cross-border trading, not localized microgrids.

As the forthcoming update to Navigant Research’s Microgrid Deployment Tracker demonstrates, Europe represents approximately 9% of the global microgrid market. The vast majority of microgrids deployed in Europe are actually on islands in the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain, or projects such as Bornholm or the Faroe Islands of Denmark.

I recently attended the International Symposium on Microgrids in Newcastle, Australia at the CSIRO Energy Centre. One could argue that Australia is the current global hotspot for commercialization of the Energy Cloud ecosystem. I have certainly made that argument in the past.

Fortune in Finland?

Perhaps the most surprising revelation at the conference was this: a unique confluence of factors make Finland the best opportunity for microgrids in Europe. Finland is not only the global leader on smart meter deployments, with 99% of its 3.5 million customers having access to this technology, but it also has a deregulated wholesale and retail market that features 83 distribution system operators (DSOs), with the largest distribution networks composed of 200,000 customers.

Unlike its neighbors Sweden and Norway, Finland lacks massive hydroelectric resources. What hydro it has tends to be run-of-the-river systems, and some of the smaller scale systems are microgrid-friendly. Most importantly, Finland is a country that does not fully share the stellar reliability associated with the EU grid. During blackouts in 2011 and 2012, as many as 570,000 customers lost power for an extended period of time. This outage raised the issue of the vulnerability of the Finland grid to winter storms due to overhead lines running through the country’s deeply forested regions that can sag from snow.

Pro-Consumer Policy Changes

In a quick response to these power outages, new regulations have been put in place that limit power outages to 6 hours annually for urban residents and 36 hours for rural customers by 2028. In a policy that would likely scare utilities in the US, DSOs are required to compensate customers for power outages. If a power outage lasts longer than 12 hours, the DSO must pay the customer 10% of its annual distribution fee, and compensation goes up gradually to a maximum of 200% with interruptions longer than 288 hours.

The first option of most DSOs to respond to these new reliability regulations is to place distribution lines underground. However, that can be expensive, especially given the low density of some DSO customer bases. According to research performed by Lappeeranta University of Technology (LUT), the lowest cost option for 10%‒40% of the medium voltage branch lines would be low voltage direct current microgrids. One such LVDC microgrid project, developed by LUT in collaboration with DSO Suur-Savon Sähkö, was developed in 2012, incorporating solar PV and batteries. Though only one other microgrid currently is operating, Finland represents an ideal market for utility distribution microgrids.

 

Cities Like Madison Lead the Way to Local Clean Energy

— December 5, 2017

As the Inaugural North American Climate Summit convenes in Chicago, Illinois, cities from across North America are leading the way toward ambitious climate action. The shift to local clean energy, known as the Energy Cloud transition, is creating new space for cities to influence the energy ecosystem. This transition will accelerate even more quickly as the adoption of Energy Cloud platforms supporting smart cities, building-to-grid, electrification of transportation, and more increases.

Imagining the Energy Cloud at Madison

Cities such as Madison, Wisconsin are influencing the Energy Cloud transition through their push for renewable energy and the reduction of carbon emissions. In March 2017, the City of Madison became the 25th city in North America to set the ambitious goal of powering city operations with 100% renewable energy and zero net carbon emissions. Navigant Consulting, Inc. (Navigant) is working with the City of Madison to envision what the future Energy Cloud looks like in this community. At a public forum earlier this year, we created a depiction of an Energy Cloud based on public input about how the City of Madison could achieve zero net carbon emissions by working together with the community to implement energy efficiency, renewable energy, and efficient transportation.

Imagining the Energy Cloud at the City of Madison, Wisconsin

Source:  Navigant (artist credit to Truscribe)

Madison’s “Energy Cloud” strategy includes making its facilities and operations more efficient, adding renewable energy generation, and identifying opportunities to incorporate renewable fuels and electrify its transportation fleet. People play an important role too. Influencing behavior by encouraging active transport, such as biking and walking, can help people reduce reliance on fossil transportation fuels and achieve health benefits through reduced air particulate matter and more active lifestyles. Additional ideas include training vehicle operators and building operators to operate vehicles and buildings as efficiently as possible.

Cities can’t accomplish their goals for renewable energy without working with utilities. The Energy Cloud includes opportunities for cities and utilities to work together. In Madison, the city is talking to two local utilities, Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) and Alliant Energy’s Wisconsin Power and Light (WPL), to identify areas of mutual interest. Topic areas include promoting energy efficiency, expanding solar and wind energy generation, expanding the use of EVs and developing charging infrastructure, and identifying opportunities to build social equity and economic development into these initiatives. The City of Madison and MGE have already made progress toward mutually identified goals: a recent grant will yield the first three all-electric Proterra Catalyst buses in Madison. Discussions with WPL are gaining momentum. The parties are looking at creative strategies such as building solar arrays on sloped industrial sites not well suited for buildings, possibly modeled after WPL’s successful West Dubuque Solar Garden project—the largest single solar array in the state of Iowa.

Leading the Way via People Power and Collaboration

Each city must envision its own Energy Cloud to account for the needs of its own stakeholders, including individual taxpayers, utilities, the business sector, environmental groups, and others. For Madison, people power and collaboration is key to moving closer to realizing 100% renewable energy. Cities like Madison are leading the way to implement an Energy Cloud transformation.

What does the Energy Cloud look like for your city? Navigant has identified five factors for success for cities that are looking to create their own Energy Cloud.

 

Data Centers and Military Microgrids: The Diesel Dilemma

— October 20, 2017

If something isn’t broken, why try to fix it? This kind of thinking sums up the perspective of many owners and operators of data centers. If they feel comfortable with the technology or solution that has been in place for quite some time, the incentive to enact something new and different is small. As a result, to maintain power for mission-critical loads, data centers have historically relied upon diesel generators linked to lead-acid batteries and (perhaps) dual feeds from two different utilities.

The Uptime Institute has created de facto data center industry standards that range from Tier I to Tier IV, with the latter representing the highest possible resilience. “Human beings have an almost emotional attachment to their diesel generators, as they give data center owners and operators both comfort and a form of insurance,” observed Chris Brown, CTO for the Uptime Institute. He does not see a decline in reliance upon diesel generators. According to Brown, “Engine generator usage will likely hang on, as the emotional tie and the form of insurance will still be present.”

Despite these insights, new data highlights how existing power infrastructure does carry risks for data centers. The average power outage cost for a data center in 2015 was $740,357—a 38% increase in the cost of downtime compared to 2010. Perhaps the most disturbing statistic found in Eaton’s Blackout Tracker Annual Report for 2016 is that the increase in maximum downtime costs rose to $2.4 million.

Military Base Parallels

One analogy to the challenge facing data centers is military bases in the United States. A typical large-scale military base may feature from 100 to 350 backup diesel generators, each hardwired to a single building. In many instances, they are sized at more than 200% of each building’s peak load as a contingency for energy security. Just a simple networking of existing diesel generators into a microgrid can offer cost savings for military microgrids and data centers alike.

A study by Pew Charitable Trusts found, for example, that creating a microgrid instead of relying upon standalone backup diesel generators reduces the cost of resilience by $1 billion or more. Note that the savings vary by region, with the greatest savings for those military microgrids deployed in the PJM Interconnection transmission control area. Yet, when displacing diesel backup generators with 50% diesel/natural gas fuel hybrid microgrid, California military bases boast the largest net savings. With a 50/50 portfolio of diesel/natural gas, microgrids in the PJM territory and the Southeast ironically show an increase in cost on a dollar-per-kilowatt basis if compared to the current reliance upon diesel backup generators. This is largely a result of low diesel fuel prices in those parts of the country, and it arguably points to the need to diversify power generation sources with a microgrid beyond fossil fuels.

Annual Net Cost of Protection ($/kW of Critical Load)

(Sources: Noblis, The Pew Charitable Trusts)

A new report by Navigant Research, Military Microgrids, notes that a key to innovation lies in new business models. The same could also be said for data centers. Data centers like to control their own destiny, which often means they want to own infrastructure. Yet, just like solar leases and third-party power purchase agreements accelerated the solar PV industry at a critical point in time in its development path, similar models could also bring microgrids into the mainstream.

Does such an approach hold promise for state-of-the-art data center microgrids? Schneider Electric would like to find out. Learn more at the upcoming webinar on October 24.

 

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