Emera Technologies’ first BlockEnergy Smart Platform has operated seamlessly for nine months after coming online last December at Kirtland Air Force Base.
The 250 kilowatt, solar/battery microgrid is currently powering six base houses, a community center, a laundry facility and a charging station for electric vehicles, said Gary Oppedahl, the company’s vice president for emerging technologies. And, because the microgrid is connected to the broader utility grid that serves Kirtland, it’s providing excess solar electricity to the base.
“The system has been running autonomously since December,” Oppedahl said. “The solar panels have produced 150% of the load needed by the microgrid, with all the excess electricity going back to the base everyday for Kirtland’s use.”
The Kirtland Resiliency Project has functioned as a testbed for Emera’s system in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement that allows the lab to study microgrid operability in a real-world environment, said Summer Ferreira, program manager for Sandia’s renewable and distributed systems integration group. The microgrid is interconnected with Sandia’s Distributed Energy Technology Laboratory, allowing for real-time monitoring and testing.
“It’s a really exciting opportunity,” Ferreira said. “The distributed energy lab is looped into the hardware for rigorous research and development on a real, functional, integrated microgrid.”
The lab will continue testing the system for functionality, reliability and resiliency through January 2022, including simulated tests such as a sudden loss of power.
“We’re looking at things like loss of load, power surges and ability to withstand cybersecurity attacks,” Ferreira said. “We inject and remove power and interfere with communications in simulated tests to look for vulnerabilities.”
Emera Technologies is a subsidiary of the international, publicly-traded utility company Emera Inc., which owns New Mexico Gas Co. Emera created the subsidiary to explore and develop emerging energy-related technologies. It opened a local office in 2018 and named Oppedahl – previously Albuquerque’s economic development director under former Mayor Richard Berry – to head it.
The company chose Albuquerque for the pilot project because of the innovative and collaborative business environment here, which allowed it to rapidly forge agreements with Sandia and Kirtland, said Emera Technologies CEO Rob Bennett.
“Our New Mexico exposure has been very fortunate,” Bennett said. “Emera normally wouldn’t have that kind of access for research and development at an Air Force base and with a Department of Energy national laboratory.”
As Emera works to deploy its microgrid technology elsewhere, the Kirtland pilot project will provide a demonstration site. That could attract the attention of many utilities, said Jon Hawkins, associate director of innovation and communications at Public Service Company of New Mexico.
“In general, microgrids are a new, emerging technology that utilities are still trying to understand,” Hawkins said. “They come in all different flavors and often are designed only for specific applications. Companies like Emera are trying to standardize what a microgrid would look like, and that’s of real interest to utilities.”