Understanding Value is Critical to Microgrid Projects

Lee Ragsdale, Senior Vice President of Grid Infrastructure & Compliance for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, joined a panel discussion on the value of microgrids at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s TechAdvantage conference in Nashville last week.

Ragsdale walked attendees through two electric co-op microgrid projects currently underway in North Carolina: the Ocracoke Island microgrid, a collaboration between Tideland EMC and North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, and the Butler Farms microgrid, under development through a collaboration between South River EMC and North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives.

“We are validating these use cases so other member cooperatives can replicate microgrid solutions on their own systems,” Ragsdale said.

Venkat Banunarayana, NRECA Associate Director of Distributed Energy, moderated the panel, also joined by Brian Levite, Microgrid Application Director for S&C Electric Company, and David Jones, Manager at the consulting firm ICF.

There are currently1,623 microgrids operating in the United States with 3.2 GW of capacity, according to GTM Research.

(Left to Right) Banunarayana, Ragsdale and Levite during the breakout session.

“Every microgrid begins in the same way: with a perceived need,” Levite said. “But whatever the catalyst is, understanding the entire suite of value streams is critical. Because they’re not going to be the same.”

Levite groups the potential value of a microgrid project into three areas: energy resilience, potential economic benefit and sustainability. A project makes the most sense when it can serve multiple needs, he explained.

“If a microgrid does one job, it’s probably not going to pencil. Your microgrid has to be able to do several jobs,” Levite said. “These systems can really be more than the sum of their parts.”

For electric cooperatives, microgrid projects have the potential to benefit both the co-op and the communities they serve, Ragsdale explained.

“As co-ops, whenever we provide value to the utility, where does that value go? To the members. To the consumers,” He said. “So co-ops gets the local benefit, but that value comes back to the membership.”