Emergency Preparedness, Energy Management and Lighting

Planning for No Power: Experts Provide a Look at Microgrid Solutions

What would you do if the power went out for 2 hours, 2 days, or even 2 weeks? This question was posed during a recent Facilities Management Now webinar, featuring Norman Campbell, Federal Team Manager of Go Electric, and Tony Mayfield, Senior Consultant and Managing Partner at On-Target Innovations.

olar Panel Array, Parking Lot

In the virtual forum session, titled “The Need for Energy Resiliency Amid Natural Disasters,” Campbell and Mayfield advocated for the use of renewable energy microgrid solutions such as solar or wind power so companies can remain energy-resilient in the event of an extended power outage. Such microgrids typically have an energy storage component and must be able to act like islands and be isolated from the main utility grid. Also, it is necessary for companies that use them to have interconnect agreements with local power utilities.

“A lot of times people have backup generation, but since it’s not exercised as frequently as possible, you find the electric backup is not as robust as you would like so when you need it, it doesn’t necessarily work,” said Campbell, adding that extended testing of the microgrid is necessary. He explained that companies need to prioritize how they use their microgrid based on how much backup power is available.

Mayfield added that facilities management staff need to be concerned about how they could use the microgrid to get their facilities back online remotely because today’s workplaces have staff working both in and out of the office.

Power outages often happen at a moment’s notice as the result of disasters such as:

  • Rolling brownouts
  • System overloads
  • Wildfires
  • Weather conditions like hurricanes and earthquakes

Helping the Community

Campbell advocated for businesses to use microgrids not just for their needs but also for the needs of the greater community. “I was working with a zoo who, not only wants to be able to continue operation under power outages and fuel outages, but they would also like to be a community center for the local folks who live around the zoo so that they have some place to go when the power is out where they can have shelter, water, and a place to eat and be safe,” he said.

Both Mayfield and Campbell said facilities like military bases should use backup power to provide services for their communities. Campbell noted that the Department of Defense requires its facilities to have adequate energy resilience to handle 14 days without utilities. Whether serving their own facilities or the greater communities, the two also agreed that backup power should be tested on a regular basis to get a true sense of how long it will last. However, Campbell warned that facilities should not purchase backup generators during an emergency due to high demand for such items and that they should already be prepared.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

According to Mayfield, determining whether to set up a microgrid requires businesses to run a cost-benefit analysis. “Events will happen. New Orleans got hit by a hurricane, will they get hit by another hurricane in the future? I’m probably going to say 100% yes but I can’t say when.” While today’s facility management professionals must choose between funding different projects, Campbell said the price of solar and battery storage is going down, and the technology is improving.

“The need for this is coming into play. What happens if [the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)] isn’t there? What happens if you have an earthquake in California, a hurricane in the Gulf, and a terrorist attack on the East Coast, and they all occur at the same time frame, and all of a sudden you don’t have the national FEMA folks able to come to your location?” Mayfield asked, adding that companies should work together to help each other with backup power needs.

Using microgrid technology can provide a solution that not only addresses the immediate needs of facilities managers protecting their own facilities but also, in the event of a large-scale outage or emergency, can help support surrounding facilities and be a community asset in times of need.

For more information on microgrid technology, you can access the free, on-demand version of “The Need for Energy Resiliency Amid Natural Disasters” session by clicking here.