Empowering the Future: Unleashing the Potential of Microgrids and Energy as a Service

Author photo: Jim Frazer
ByJim Frazer

In the dynamic world of sustainability and energy solutions, innovation never rests. One of the latest breakthroughs in this field is the emergence of microgrids and the concept of energy as a service. In a recent podcast conversation, Steve Pullins, the Chief Technology Officer of Alpha Structure, shared his insights on how these cutting-edge technologies are transforming the energy landscape. From ensuring uninterrupted power supply at major airports to electrifying heavy-duty transportation, the conversation covered various facets of microgrids and the unique approach Alpha Structure is taking to reshape energy consumption.



Microgrids Unveiled:

To kick off the conversation, Jim Frazer delved into the topic of microgrids, aiming to break down this complex concept into more digestible terms. Steve Pullins explained that a microgrid is essentially an on-site energy system, composed of various energy generating assets such as solar PV arrays, combined heat and power units, batteries, and more. These resources are intelligently interconnected through microgrid controls, creating a robust and flexible energy infrastructure. Microgrids are particularly attractive due to their potential to enhance cost efficiency, reliability, resilience, and sustainability. They're an energy safety net, offering a continuous supply even during grid outages or major storms.

The Rise of Microgrids:

Steve Pullins, with over 40 years of experience in the energy industry, discussed the growing popularity of microgrids and their applications. He highlighted the value of solar energy, given its stability, lack of fuel costs, and long-term nature. Additionally, combined heat and power units, powered by various sources such as natural gas or hydrogen, offer baseload generation capabilities, providing consistent power output. The synergy of these resources is where microgrids excel, creating a more reliable and sustainable energy ecosystem. Steve pointed out that the challenge lies in educating organizations about these technologies and their benefits, guiding them toward a more holistic understanding of energy systems.

A Paradigm Shift: Energy as a Service:

Steve Pullins touched on the concept of "energy as a service," a transformative approach to energy provision. Traditionally, businesses and industries needed substantial capital to invest in energy infrastructure. However, Alpha Structure is flipping this model by acting as an energy partner, assuming the financial responsibility for building and maintaining microgrids. Businesses benefit by shifting capital expenditure to operational expenditure, allowing them to focus on their core operations. This innovative approach is particularly appealing to organizations that have energy-intensive operations and wish to enhance their resilience, sustainability, and reliability.

Real-World Applications: JFK's New Terminal:

Steve shared an illuminating real-world example to demonstrate the power of microgrids in action. He discussed Alpha Structure's involvement in building an energy system for JFK's New Terminal 1. This massive project aims to replace older terminals at JFK Airport in New York, covering an impressive 2.5 million square feet with a budget of $9.5 billion. By incorporating a microgrid into this infrastructure, Alpha Structure ensures that the terminal remains operational even during grid failures. The microgrid's combination of solar arrays, batteries, and other resources guarantees a seamless transition to island mode, safeguarding operations and passenger well-being during storms or outages.

Redundancy vs. Resilience: A Critical Distinction:

In the conversation, Steve highlighted a critical distinction between redundancy and resilience. Redundancy involves having backup systems in place, but it doesn't necessarily guarantee that a facility will remain operational during extended disruptions. On the other hand, resilience entails a comprehensive strategy that combines various energy sources and technologies, allowing operations to continue seamlessly even in the face of multiple equipment failures or major events. Microgrids, by their nature, offer high levels of resilience through their smart combination of distributed energy resources.

Microgrids and Heavy-Duty Transportation: A Perfect Match:

Steve pointed out that Alpha Structure is currently heavily engaged in electrifying heavy-duty transportation, such as transit buses, regional transport of goods, and last-mile delivery fleets. As the transportation sector transitions to electric vehicles, the demand for charging infrastructure is increasing. Traditional grid infrastructure might struggle to accommodate this new demand, but microgrids offer a powerful solution. Steve cited an example of a bus depot in Maryland, where a microgrid powers 70 electric buses seamlessly. By creating microgrids on-site, transportation operators can ensure reliable and sustainable power supply without straining the grid.

Private Partnerships and the Future of Energy:

In terms of future trends, Steve emphasized that while not every energy solution will be a microgrid, these systems will play a significant role in the energy landscape. He foresees an equilibrium between centrally generated power and locally generated power, as microgrids become more prevalent. Steve also acknowledged the importance of private partnerships, indicating that Alpha Structure works with both public and private entities. The key is to address the needs of energy-intensive and energy-sensitive industries, helping them transform their energy consumption and resilience strategies.

Conclusion: Energizing the Future with Microgrids:

In a world marked by shifting energy needs and growing concerns about sustainability, microgrids are emerging as a dynamic solution that promises resilience, reliability, and sustainability. The conversation with Steve Pullins shed light on the transformative potential of microgrids and the groundbreaking concept of energy as a service. From powering major airport terminals to electrifying heavy-duty transportation, Alpha Structure's approach is driving change in the energy landscape. As businesses and industries seek innovative ways to enhance their energy systems, microgrids are poised to revolutionize how we generate, consume, and manage power in the years to come.


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