Duke University Students Get Firsthand Look at Ocracoke Microgrid Project

Graduate students from Duke University’s Nicholas School Energy Club recently toured the Ocracoke Island microgrid project located on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The students were interested in seeing the microgrid infrastructure and meeting with policymakers and others who were involved with the technical, political and economic aspects of the project, which was installed by North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation (NCEMC) in partnership with Tideland Electric Membership Corporation.

NCEMC’s manager of diesel generation Paul Flythe, principal engineer Brian Purvis and manager of tech field services Carlton Lewis gave the students a firsthand look at the microgrid components and explained the technical aspects of the project. The students also met with Hyde County Manager Bill Rich, who lives on Ocracoke Island, to talk about the county ordinances in place regarding solar and wind power, and with Heidi Smith, Tideland’s manager of corporate communications, to gain further insight on the microgrid and the cooperative, as well as the environmental challenges faced by island communities.

“I was extremely impressed by the students and the level of questions they asked,” Smith said. “It was a very rewarding experience to meet with them, and they left with a great understanding of the cooperatives and our operations.”

Carlton Lewis, NCEMC’s manager of tech field services, gives students a firsthand look at the microgrid.

The Ocracoke Island microgrid began operation in February 2017. Its components include a controller, solar panels, battery storage, internet-connected thermostats, water heater controls and a diesel generator. This pilot microgrid project offers multiple benefits as it supports better power reliability and resiliency for the island, serves as a resource that can be called on during times of peak demand for power, and allows for the testing of system components to discover future uses for the technology. It is one of two electric cooperative microgrids operating in North Carolina.

According to its website, the Nicholas School Energy Club is run by Master’s and PhD students at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. The club and its members strive to unite students, alumni, professionals and community members over current energy issues. Through professional development and engagement opportunities, club members will leave the Nicholas School ready to face environmental, technical and policy challenges presented by the current energy system.