N.C. DEQ Secretary Michael Regan Visits Ocracoke Microgrid Project

N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan joined representatives from North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives and local cooperative Tideland EMC this week to tour the Ocracoke microgrid on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, as well as discuss the importance of grid resiliency and the integral role of rural utilities in our state’s infrastructure.

The Ocracoke Island microgrid began operation in February 2017. North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation (NCEMC), which supplies power to most of the co-ops across the state, installed the microgrid in partnership with Tideland EMC, along with support from North Carolina’s electric cooperatives.

The Ocracoke Island microgrid is an innovative project that integrates new technologies and renewables to generate its own power.

As its name implies, a microgrid is a small electric system that combines local energy resources and control technologies to provide power to a defined area. Microgrids typically remain connected to the main grid, but they can operate independently.

Microgrids offer a variety of benefits including:

    • Serving as a resource that can be called on during times of peak demand
    • Helping reduce power supply costs by providing an alternative source of power generation and storage
    • Improving system reliability by avoiding prolonged and rotating blackouts during and after storm events
    • Providing a learning opportunity that will help discover future uses for microgrids and their components.

Ocracoke Island’s remote location leaves it vulnerable during weather events and isolated from central power generation sources, making it an ideal candidate for the integration of local power resources and enhanced resiliency provided by a microgrid.

The Ocracoke microgrid components include a controller, solar panels, battery storage, a diesel generator and internet-connected thermostats and water heater controls located in the homes and businesses on the island that allow local co-op members to play a role in the microgrid’s operations. The controller serves as the heart of the microgrid by calling on the various components as needed to balance system load with available resources, ensure the grid is operating at maximum efficiency on a daily basis, and supporting power needs on the island if an outage occurs.

North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are also piloting the Butler Farms microgrid in Harnett County, developed in partnership with the farm and its co-op, South River EMC. This agricultural microgrid is the first to integrate components owned by an N.C. co-op member and uses renewable energy from hog waste, along with other resources, to supplement the main grid and generate its own power. Secretary Regan also visited that project earlier this year.

Both projects are allowing all 26 cooperatives to learn how these technologies work together and explore how they can be used in new ways.

The Butler Farms microgrid, a collaborative project by Butler Quality Pork and Renewable Energy Farm, South River EMC and North Carolina’s electric cooperatives, integrates batteries and a controller (shown here) with solar energy, biogas and diesel generation, and demonstrates how utilities and agriculture – two of the state’s largest industries – can work together.

Visit the Energy and Innovation section of our website to learn more about both our microgrid projects, as well as other innovative co-op initiatives.