Florida International University (FIU) and Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) have unveiled a solar-powered energy microgrid—the latest project to emerge from a decades-long partnership between the university and the utility.
In the event of an outage due to severe weather, the FIU-FPL microgrid is capable of supplying backup power to FIU’s engineering center for approximately 24 hours depending on electrical usage. The facility also gives students and researchers the ability to gain hands-on experience with cutting-edge technology and enables FPL to conduct further research to help advance renewable energy and make Florida’s energy infrastructure even smarter.
“When FIU and FPL unveiled our innovative solar canopy in 2016, solar was still a technology of the future. Today, solar is the ‘here and now’ for FPL. With this microgrid, FIU students have the opportunity to contribute to the future of energy yet again,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “Our decade-long partnership with FPL demonstrates exactly how experimental projects like this microgrid can turn into world-changing developments practically overnight.”
According to the partners, microgrid technology is uniquely capable of addressing customer needs for resiliency in the wake of extreme weather events such as wildfires and hurricanes. A smaller version of the main energy grid, microgrids can operate in both grid-connected and “island” mode—meaning when severe weather affects the main energy grid, a microgrid can operate autonomously using its own local energy sources to power the buildings or facilities that the microgrid supports.
“At FPL, we are always eager to look over the horizon and disrupt the status quo to continue to deliver America’s best energy value—electricity that’s not just clean and reliable, but also affordable,” said Eric Silagy, President and CEO of FPL. “This cutting-edge microgrid isn’t just an opportunity for FPL to help shape the next generation of America’s workforce; it’s an opportunity for FIU students and faculty to contribute directly to a brighter energy future for the Sunshine State—a future that includes more solar, more energy storage, and hopefully more microgrid technology on a greater scale.”
Once fully operational later this year, the FIU-FPL microgrid will be powered by the existing FIU-FPL 1.4 megawatt (MW) solar array at the FPL-FIU Solar Research Center, which doubles as a parking canopy, and incorporate a large-scale 3 MW battery energy storage system. The microgrid is located on the northeast corner of FIU’s Engineering Center. The system will have a 10-year lifespan, and when not in microgrid mode, the battery will smooth the solar canopy’s generation to minimize gaps caused by clouds and shading.
In addition to solar and battery storage, the microgrid leverages one of FIU’s state-of-the-art research facilities, the Proactive Analytics and Data Oriented Research on Availability and Security (PANDORAS) Lab, which will serve as a virtual control room. There, faculty and students use high-end computer systems to conduct research using smart grid, weather, and telecommunications data.