$1bn in potential savings identified through Boston microgrids

A study performed by MIT Lincoln Lab and the Boston Redevelopment Authority shows that microgrids have the potential to greatly increase the city’s energy resiliency as well as save $1bn in costs.

Jacob Solomon ofà‚ MIT Lincoln Lab explained in the MIT Lincoln Laboratory website that the motivation for the project came from the impact of Hurricane Sandy. The storm wrought much devastation in the US northeast but it was noted that many of the areas that maintained power did so through the presence of microgrids.
Boston city skyline
MIT and Boston Dedevelopment Authority produced then the Boston Community Energy Study, an investigation into a resilient power system design for Boston.

An important part in the study involved determining feasible locations for microgrids by discovering the areas in which energy usage is highest.

Following that step the team identify an ‘anchor building’ for a microgrid. The anchor building is one that demands enough energy to justify the investment in local infrastructure upgrades for establishing a microgrid. Siting a microgrid in the location of an anchor building makes an infrastructure investment palatable to the city and encourages local stakeholders to consider connecting to the microgrid.

Eric Morgan, a member of the Laboratory’s Energy Systems Group who utilized his previous experience with microgrid analysis in his role as technical lead of this energy study told Solomon of the benefits of the microgrid.

“First, microgrids can decouple from the larger utility grid and operate autonomously, making them more resilient to large weather events. Second, when electricity generation and consumption are co-located, as with many microgrids, there is an opportunity to utilize the waste heat (i.e., the byproduct of energy generation) within neighbouring buildings for hot water, heating, or even cooling.” A CHP system that makes use of waste heat produces two energy products from a single fuel source, effectively doubling fuel efficiency.

While assessing new resilience strategies, the BRA identified a gap in the data on the energy usage of small buildings, and even some commercial buildings, in Boston. To address this deficit, the BRA asked the MIT Sustainable Design Lab (SDL) to generate a map of simulated energy usage for each building during every hour of the year. The SDL used datasets about building age and type, provided by the City of Boston, to produce thermal and electrical use estimates of 85,000 buildings. Morgan developed an algorithm that could determine where in Boston to put microgrids.

Using the simulated data from SDL, Morgan developed an algorithm that could determine where in Boston to put microgrids. into account places that are deemed critical to keep functioning in the event that the energy infrastructure did go down, such as hospitals, grocery stores, gas stations, and places of refuge, and made microgrids that stemmed from there.”

To develop these 22 site assessments, the team used the Distributed Energy Resources Customer Adoption Model (DER-CAM), a decision support tool for distributed energy systems. Designed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and adapted by Valentine for this specific case, DER-CAM uses three types of input data: energy usage statistics, economic constraints (e.g., energy pricing, site construction costs, operation and maintenance costs), and environmental factors (e.g., outside air temperature, solar effects) to determine an optimal site selection and the dispatch of available energy-generation technologies.

This first-ever city-scale study of microgrids estimated that the 22 proposed microgrids in Boston could realize $1 billion in financial and environmental savings over the next two decades.

Much of this article originally appeared on theà‚ MIT Lincoln Laboratory site and was reposted with permission.

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