Microgrid Case Study: Duke Energy Carolinas

Microgrids are independent power systems that can power a building, campus or small community in place of the electric grid during a power outage. Microgrids have been used for many decades, and new technologies and designs have made them more affordable and effective. Microgrids can provide reliability for customers and economic benefits for the utility. For example, solar generation can reduce or eliminate the need to refuel traditional generators, and modern batteries can provide faster, higher-quality power with less maintenance.

Duke Energy’s McAlpine and Mount Holly microgrids serve as examples of utility owned and operated microgrid services. To support our Smart Grid Webinar Series, we visited both locations to see firsthand how these microgrids work.

Since 2013, Duke Energy has been testing microgrid technologies at the McAlpine Creek Substation in Charlotte, N.C. The microgrid uses a 50 kW installation of solar panels combined with a 200 kW/ 500 kWh battery energy storage system to provide backup generation to a fire station located next to the substation.

The goals of the McAlpine micgrogrid project are to demonstrate how microgrids can be used to provide greater energy grid resiliency to a critical facility by leveraging utility equipment and systems. The demonstration project also allows Duke Energy to evaluate the suitability of today’s distribution standards for ancillary and grid stability services. The electric grid partnered with solar and battery storage gives rise to new opportunities.

Through the McAlpine microgrid, Duke Energy has been learning how to better support critical customers using grid equipment that can be automatically reconfigured to provide back-up power when needed, and then seamlessly reconnect to the grid when the distribution circuit is restored.

To further test microgrid capabilities, Duke Energy added a microgrid to their Mount Holly Training Center, located in Mount Holly, N.C. Using solar and a battery energy storage system, Duke Energy is able to operate a portion of its training center on a microgrid both for demonstration purposes and in the case of an actual power outage. The training center allows Duke Energy to test multiple battery and solar technologies to determine which products will work best in microgrid projects.

“We see three potential areas for application that seem to really make sense for microgrid technologies — military bases, and we’re actively working with our military customers to help them meet their energy security needs, cities and other emergency response customers who could use microgrids to power their joint communications and emergency response centers, and customers who would otherwise need large capital investment to update old energy infrastructure.”
– Tom Fenimore, Technology Development Manager in Emerging Technology Office at Duke Energy

Microgrids can benefit both customers and the utility by providing increased service reliability. As technologies continue to develop, more microgrids will be installed to ensure that power can be quickly restored when there are outages. Through the testing Duke Energy is conducting, they are learning how to safely, seamlessly and automatically disconnect and reconnect microgrids to the electric grid to better serve their customers.

To learn more about microgrids, click here to watch our webinar.