Mike Byrnes, Senior Vice President, Veolia North America
Could you talk about the role of microgrids in the utility landscape?
Microgrid technology is assisting in increasing efficiency, and resiliency to enhance an organization’s relationship with its environment. With microgrids becoming beneficial for the rising global energy demand, Veolia is building large, resilient power and thermal projects every year. Also, the local utility markets are assisting us by providing access to ancillary services markets that are flexible including capacity, voltage support, and frequency regulation—for clients to yield profits and support their capital investment for the microgrid technology. We are helping our clients address environmental and sustainability challenges to enhance their energy efficiency and water and wastewater management.
What are the pain points and challenges that need to be addressed in the microgrids sector?
For resiliency purposes and economic reasons, businesses are moving toward the on-site generation of microgrids, which enables them to buy and sell with the local utility. Puerto Rico is one such example where one can take a portion of the island, a couple of industrial sites or a small town, to install solar power generation and battery storage for renewable components. In the event that the local grid goes down during natural disasters such as hurricanes and storms, these microgrids can still serve residential areas. The process is advantageous because firstly, more people have multiple sources of power, and secondly, businesses are not interrupted.
"With microgrids becoming beneficial for the rising global energy demand, Veolia is building large, resilient power and thermal projects every year"
What are the comprehensive solutions and services in the microgrids marketplace? Also, how must organizations adapt and identify the right partnerships?
As solution providers ourselves, we cater to clients who need microgrids and align with our goals. Since microgrids can serve a specific target of consumers that require as little as 50 KW of power, we tend to serve larger clients such as college campuses, hospitals, individual industrial plants, and small towns. Also, microgrids are perfect for businesses that operate in a small space and don’t require a full-time operations staff. Hence, our microgrids are more of an investment in capital infrastructure and a service contract. We like to build, own, and operate plants for people and provide energy-as-a-service.
Also, despite the recent entry of new solution providers in the marketplace, organizations prefer partners who have a long and excellent history of delivering performance. The advancement of technology has given rise to newbies, among which only a few have built projects. In this cut-throat market atmosphere, we hold a significant advantage, especially since we understand the nitty-gritty of the various energy markets.
We have plants in Brooklyn and Manhattan, which enables us to shed the load from the primary grid and facilitate the maximum generation of all the power plants. Deploying more distributed resources reduces stress on the grids and the local utilities, which translates into significant savings for our clients. These trends have been in the market for at least two decades, but they are now evolving into more sophisticated technical and financial models.
Are there any impactful projects or initiatives that you have undertaken in the recent past?
Nowadays, the conversations revolve around resilience, and we have the potential to address and fix our clients’ issues. Organizations are in a dilemma as to what precautions they need to undertake during storms, ocean rising, or other weather hazards. On that note, Veolia North America is doing resiliency work in New Orleans. We have successfully hardened their wastewater management facilities and their pumping plants. We have recently finished the microgrid in Hudson Yards, which is a large and significant development that contributes to further economic savings and resiliency. Another project was in Brooklyn, where a co-generation plant was not connected to the grid, so we finished its interconnection.
What kind of future do you envision for smartgrids over the next 12-18 months? Are there any potential disruptions on the horizon?
I think plants are becoming more ubiquitous. Over the past few years, they contain more renewable battery storage, which has been a game-changer for the energy sector. Since the price points on these plants have significantly decreased, smartgrids have become more economically feasible.
Do you have any advice for aspiring professionals in your field?
One must always select companies (smartgrid solution providers) that have expertise in the smart grid and microgrid arena and are on good terms with local utilities. The process of choosing and deploying these microgrids demands an extensive amount of time and personnel with proficiency in this realm—preferably microgrid professionals.
As for new engineers; there has never been a better time to be in the energy business.