Philip Barton, Sr. Director N.A. Microgrid Competency Center, Schneider Electric
As our energy landscape becomes disrupted with continued decentralization and the entrance of new technologies, companies are increasingly revising their environmental commitments. Fortunately, declines in renewable energy costs, new efficiency strategies and advanced clean energy technology, such as microgrids and energy storage, offer companies today a greater opportunity to reach their sustainability goals.
Although we’re closer to reaching a cleaner energy future and the benefit from implementing energy and sustainability initiatives are substantial, the transformation process can still be challenging. According to a Schneider Electric and GreenBiz Research survey, half of C-level and board members feel that energy and sustainability decision-making is not well-coordinated, while 26 percent of senior vice presidents and vice presidents had the same view. This indicates that overall coordination is falling short.
"To truly embrace a sustainable future, organizations need to adopt a company-wide vision, beginning at the top"
To truly embrace a sustainable future, organizations need to adopt a company-wide vision, beginning at the top. Actionable change results from a likeminded mentality from internal groups at all levels who integrate efforts and drive strategic, synchronized planning. Many times, organizations find they can’t get buy-in from internal stakeholders because they view sustainability, energy management and clean technology investments as separate initiatives. For example, collaboration between the CFO and CIO is more critical than ever as the financial health of organizations becomes more closely connected to these technological shifts and growing focus on digital.
Establishing a culture of sustainable innovation to integrate new strategies and advanced technologies
Deploying new technologies and strategies can benefit both energy management and sustainability teams, but they need to work together to ensure investments are right-sized and will meet a company’s larger business goals. Demand response, for instance, is an energy management strategy that is increasingly being adopted as utilities integrate more distributed energy resources (DER) into the grid. It allows utilities to balance supply and demand by integrating programs that encourage customers to curb energy use during peak hours, resulting in significant cost savings and decreased CO2 levels.
Schneider Electric and GreenBiz found that 51 percent of companies have done or are planning to do renewable energy projects, while only 30 percent of companies are planning projects related to energy storage, microgrids and demand response. This is concerning given such developments are necessary to take advantage of the resource and financial savings in a decentralized energy system.
Optimizing energy storage and microgrid technology
The ability of energy storage to absorb and discharge power has a significant value for regions pursuing high levels of renewable energy. As more of our electricity starts to come from wind and solar, storage allows facilities to collect extra electricity when the sun is shining and the wind is strong, and then give it back during peak hours. Additionally, storage systems help deliver power instantaneously while emitting no greenhouse gases or air pollution on-site. Sustainability teams can work with energy management teams to collect data on how much “brown” power was avoided by using on-site renewable energy and energy storage.
Moreover, microgrids combine DER such as on-site solar, gensets, software-enabled and data-driven equipment, and energy storage so they work optimally and become reliant upon each other. They help facilities better understand energy use patterns and can quickly react to optimize total energy spend. The connected components that make up a microgrid also allow companies to closely monitor real-time energy consumption and deploy renewable or onsite energy sources at optimal times to save on energy costs.
Microgrids, through their DERs, afford the opportunity to stack use cases to enhance financial outcomes. They facilitate minute-to-minute decisions on when to buy, store, or sell power, and account for utility variable pricing structures through peak demand management and load shifting.
Microgrids also provide resilient power, offering the capability to detach from the main grid and operate during unexpected grid failure, power outages and severe weather events. This can help businesses mitigate the impact of such unprecedented events, including extensive productivity loss and costly downtime. Additionally, microgrids are especially significant for facilities that require continuous hours of ongoing operation and are crucial for public safety, health and emergency response, such as hospitals and safe refuge centers.
Microgrid technology can help reduce corporate carbon footprint, increase power resilience and help prepare for a decentralized future grid, but various internal stakeholders need to work together when developing such a project. Sustainability goals and impact on CO2 or renewable energy targets need to be discussed when considering what energy source is used to power a microgrid, and what the long-term vision is. Collectively, a company can meet renewable energy goals, consume less power from the grid and reduce their dependence on the market power price to ensure facility-level energy reliability and resiliency.
Impact of data sharing across departments
Finally, data sharing, both at a facility and portfolio level, needs to be encouraged and formalized across all internal teams to help determine improvement opportunities, set goals and report progress and key indicators. However, data such as how much energy is being used and associated costs is often hard to get or siloed in one department.
De-siloing and sharing various data can provide benefits such as:
• Energy procurement: Data can be used for carbon footprint reporting, vetting renewable energy procurement opportunities, prioritizing energy efficiency improvements and building better business cases for investments.
• Energy consumption: Data allows for better benchmarking and energy cost accuracy, determining onsite renewable energy opportunities and quantifying project savings and CO2 reduction.
• Variable Pricing: Data can be used to align use and demand with variable utility rates.
• Sustainability levels: Data can be used to improve a business case for efficiency projects by showing the impact on CO2 goals at the corporate level and increasing employee engagement on efficiency initiatives.