NM firm’s microgrid gains traction

Rooftop solar panels installed on a row of homes connected to Emera Technologies’ microgrid at Kirtland AFB. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Emera Technologies LLC is rolling out the nation’s first neighborhood-level, solar and battery-powered microgrid in Tampa, Fla., after developing and testing the system in Albuquerque.

The company, a subsidiary of publicly-traded utility firm Emera Inc., is partnering with Lennar Homes and the Metro Development Group to deploy its BlockEnergy microgrid next year on a new 40-home subdivision in the Southshore Bay master-planned community in Tampa, Vice President for Emerging Technologies Gary Oppedahl told the Albuquerque Economic Forum Wednesday morning.

“Tampa is our first project,” Oppedahl said. “We also have two local projects under development in New Mexico. … We’re ready to go.”

Emera Technologies built the system in partnership with Sandia National Laboratories and Kirtland Air Force Base, where it placed its first BlockEnergy test bed online in December 2019 to supply power to about a dozen base houses and installations.

“It’s been running completely hands-free at Kirtland since last December,” Oppedahl said.

It’s a fully self-reliant plug-and-play microgrid designed to be owned and operated by utilities. The electric companies pay for all installation and maintenance at no cost to builders or homeowners, who simply pay a monthly electric bill for consumption like any other utility service.

That could markedly accelerate renewable deployment in communities nationwide, since it turns neighborhood-level solar and battery generation into a utility asset, while removing upfront costs and risks for homeowners associated with individual rooftop systems, Oppedahl said.

The system includes solar panels, battery storage and advanced control systems for every home in neighborhoods of up to 50 houses. All those individual systems are networked together and then collectively connected to a central control site that’s also interconnected to the broader utility grid.

The system automatically monitors and manages electric generation and distribution throughout the microgrid 24/7, ensuring a constant flow of energy where and when its needed. It’s completely self-contained, providing neighborhood-level resiliency against any service interruptions on a utility’s broader grid.

Apart from residential neighborhoods, BlockEnergy resiliency could make the system very attractive for military installations, encouraging Kirtland and Sandia to partner on the pilot project in Albuquerque.

“There’s talk now of expanding it to the entire base to help make Kirtland the ‘gold standard’ for energy resiliency,” Oppedahl said.

Tampa Electric Co., or TECO, is heading the first commercial BlockEnergy deployment in Florida. TECO is owned by Emera Inc., a $32 billion energy company that also owns the New Mexico Gas Co.

Emera Technologies publicly unveiled its new microgrid system in October during the North America Smart Energy Week, an annual renewable energy industry conference and trade show.


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