Active Efficiency in Action

The best way to understand the value of Active Efficiency is to see it in action. There are many examples that demonstrate the potential of Active Efficiency. Between the economic, social, and environmental benefits, the hard work that goes into making these examples successful is something to be celebrated.

Siemens ‘Living Lab’ Microgrid Research Center in New Jersey

The need to mitigate climate change and adapt to more frequent and intense natural disasters requires a cleaner, more reliable, and more resilient energy system. In recent years, microgrids, with their potential to reduce emissions, save energy, and bolster grid resilience, have emerged as a possible solution. To leverage this potential, Siemens established an Advanced Microgrid Research and Demonstration Testbed, or “living lab,” at its Princeton, New Jersey, Research Center. Siemens takes an Active Efficiency approach, using automated microgrid design tools and combinations of technologies to develop optimal solution configurations, address the business need to lower the company’s CO2 footprint and energy costs, and maintain a reliable and stable power environment to keep the Research Center up and running during all testing and deployment phases.

Resilience and efficiency in microgrids

A microgrid is a local energy grid with the ability to “island” – meaning that while it is typically connected to its region’s largescale grid, it can also disconnect and operate autonomously. Because of this islanding feature, microgrids offer increased resilience to energy systems when grid services are disrupted. Energy efficiency can enhance this feature: if the building or community that the microgrid serves is energy-efficient, the microgrid can operate longer during a power disruption.

In addition to resilience benefits, microgrids can also achieve energy savings. Microgrids reduce transmission losses because the source of generation is closer to the end-user, and additional transmission savings (between 7-30%) are possible in microgrids that use direct current (DC) power from the generation source rather than converting power between DC and alternating current (AC). Microgrids that are designed to harness Active Efficiency strategies, such as systems integration and demand response, can further increase energy efficiency and, in turn, enhance resilience.

“The beauty of our R&D work in Princeton is that we have the power to investigate and validate highly innovative technologies continuously in a real environment, resulting in a clear blueprint for a more efficient and flexible microgrid system that can be replicated all over the world.”

– Xiaofan Wu, Princeton Island Grid Project Manager, Siemens Technology.

How does the Siemens living lab microgrid use Active Efficiency strategies to maximize efficiency and reduce carbon intensity?

The living lab microgrid uses digital tools to manage generation from photovoltaic (PV) panels, energy storage in batteries, electric vehicle chargers, and power demand from the facility. These digital tools provide systems integration capabilities that allow the microgrid to harmoniously align the generation from its distributed energy resources with the facility’s energy needs, consequently minimizing loss of energy. The high efficiency of the microgrid and its use of PV panels for the majority of its energy needs combine to lower the facility’s CO2 emissions.

Here’s how the tools produce success:

  • Digital Energy Management Tools
    • Digital Twin Tool. Digital twin simulation is used to optimize the energy consumption of the building. The digital twin, for example, can measure the impact of replacing an HVAC system or lighting within a building and indicates ahead of time how such changes will influence how the microgrid is managed. Those projections are later compared to real world results.
    • Real-time Microgrid Dashboard. Siemens employs its proprietary MindSphere tool – a cloud-based platform visualized through a real-time energy analytics dashboard – to analyze energy and CO2 emissions data. Microgrid operators can use the dashboard to monitor power generation and demand in real time to identify issues of excess power or periods of high demand.
  • Distributed Energy Resources (DERs)
    • Dual PV Panels. The solar panels currently supply 60% of the facility’s energy (while using the local power grid for the balance of the energy generation). The goal over the next three years is to have the solar panels supply energy 80% of the time.
    • Energy Storage. The 1 MWh battery energy storage system can power the facility for two to three hours, given the facility’s load of 400-500 kW for 400 occupants. The living lab’s research includes studying the impacts of demand on the longevity of the battery.

What factors have contributed to the success of building the living lab microgrid?

  • Site selection. Site selection considerations included prior energy consumption, electrical loads, financial requirements, payback periods, and availability of renewable energy sources and storage. According to Siemens, the Princeton site was “small enough to assure a rapid deployment, but big enough with an occupancy of around 400 people to demonstrate a significant energy savings and energy resilience impact.”
  • Collaboration. Siemens collaborated with stakeholders internally as well as externally, including the U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratories. Building relationships among these various groups and communicating on an ongoing basis is critical to securing funding, simplifying complexity, and avoiding additional expenses.

Further research is necessary to understand how energy systems can integrate microgrids and leverage their Active Efficiency benefits. Siemens is learning-by-doing at its living lab, exploring how leveraging DERs and digital energy management tools together from a dynamic, system-wide perspective can maximize the benefits of microgrids. By demonstrating scalability, the living lab may encourage other campuses like hospitals, universities, and office parks to pursue microgrid solutions to achieve greater reductions in energy use, energy costs, and emissions.