When a company like Cypress Semiconductor and T.J. Rodgers, its iconoclastic CEO, declares "energy independence" -- it's a sure sign of a coming shift.  The traditional relationship between power company and power customer is changing, albeit slowly, with the advent of distributed generation, in both renewable and non-renewable forms.   

The "downhill" flow of energy from centralized power plant to end-user is being set on its ear.  To some, this is what the smart grid enables.

In Cypress Semiconductor's case, the firm is already generating 75 percent of its own power from a mix of solar panels (BP panels, no less) and three newly commissioned Bloom Energy fuel cell units.  Rodgers sees a day when 90 percent of the firm's energy will be self-generated.

What Rodgers envisions is essentially a microgrid -- an integrated system of distributed energy, energy storage and power loads working in parallel to or islanded from the utility power grid.  Other potential applications could be hospitals, neighborhoods, office parks, military bases and school campuses with their own distributed power generation sources.  Although some analysts forecast that microgrids will be a multi-gigawatt and multi-billion dollar market, today the microgrid is just an emerging idea.

That long walk gets us to the point of this article:

If you operate a microgrid, you're going to want to simulate how it performs under ordinary and extraordinary conditions.  Microgrids have to be as reliable or even more reliable than the utility grid -- hospitals, campuses, offices and neighborhoods with microgrids are going to expect the same reliability that the traditional utility grid provides.  

EDSA is a 20-year-old "startup" that does just that.  The 34-employee firm is a one-time family-owned business, now funded by Wexford Capital, with under $10 million in revenue.  I spoke with Kevin Meagher, EDSA's CTO.

EDSA Software

Historically, EDSA has created analytical design software for power systems.  In fact, all United States naval ships are designed using EDSA's power system software product.  The FAA is a major customer for air traffic control systems software. And now, EDSA makes a smart grid product for data centers and microgrids.  The common thread in the product line is the control and simulation of complex power systems.

The software from EDSA allows the user to create a model that accounts for the "nameplate data" of every power system component, from cables and transformers to circuit breakers and fuses. The model ends up representing a power network, and a variety of analytical applications allow the user to see how that system performs under any set of circumstances.

There is no standardized set of metrics by which to judge the figure of merit or quality of a power system.  "Today everyone understands EBITA; any analyst can understand those metrics," said Meagher.  The CTO suggested that we need a set of "power analytics analogous to business analytics." 

EDSA's software optimizes energy consumption in multi-energy source sites, whether they are focused on a single goal, such as minimizing annual cost, carbon footprint, peak load or public utility consumption, or a combination of objectives that vary by time, costs, energy source reliability, etc.

As more organizations supplement their utility power with on-premise power generation, EDSA's smart grid software:

  • Serves as a master controller for microgrid design, monitoring and electricity trading (i.e., selling electricity back into the public grid)
  • Monitors real-time microgrid power quality, utilization and capacity
  • Monitors all transactions between the utility and microgrid
  • Maintains rate and pricing information for management of private-public exchange

The thrust of the EDSA software is the model-based approach, allowing users to pose questions like, "What if I were to bring up new loads or a new chiller, or change a solar panel supplier?  All of this is done for the non-power professional and allows for very simple network management -- "like managing a fiber ring," according to Meagher, for those communications professionals out there.

It also allows the microgrid operator to sell extra power as a demand response customer with a very strong awareness of pricing and load "24 hours a day, 365 days a year," creating "a market model that can pay."

Microgrid Demonstrations

There are a few microgrid projects in demonstration mode in the United States, mostly under the auspices of universities.  One of the more prominent of these projects is at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD).

UCSD operates a 42-megawatt peak load microgrid operating in parallel with the utility (SDG&E) distribution network.  It's comprised of 1 megawatt of PV, 26 megawatts of gas turbine cogen and 60 gen sets, totaling 32 megawatts.  It also has a cooling system that uses a 3.8 million-gallon chilled water storage system that achieves daily about 14 percent load shifting.  The university’s microgrid allows it to locally produce its own power, heating and cooling at lower than grid prices.  UCSD generates 80 percent of its power on-campus and uses EDSA's product for its on-campus microgrid.

UCSD also has plans to incorporate a Molten Carbonate Fuel Cell and electrical energy storage as well as to integrate electric vehicles.

Military Microgrids

Balance Energy is a San Diego-based initiative of the U.S. arm of British defense contractor BAE Systems that is also working on smart grid and microgrid applications.  "We supply end customers with renewable energy, and package it up into a microgrid," according to Terry Mohn, Balance Energy's chief innovation officer.  BAE joins fellow defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing in entering the smart grid space (see Defense Contractors Pursue the Smart Grid).

Microgrid projects seem to be a natural for military contractors, since military bases are one of the "critical assets" that need to keep the power on in the event of natural disaster or attack.  Lockheed is working on several microgrid projects, and the Department of Defense has given General Electric $2 million to build a microgrid for the U.S. Marine Corps base in Twentynine Palms, California.


EDSA's smart grid/microgrid monitoring GUI:


Schematic of the CERTS (The Consortium for Electric Reliability Technology Solutions) microgrid: