Whether for reliability or necessity, two leading-edge projects in Arizona are proving microgrids can offer alternatives for power delivery when traditional methods may not be the best options for commercial users and downtime is simply not an option.


Microgrids are localized electricity grids that operate independently or in conjunction with more commonly used centralized grids, or macrogrids. Because microgrids can disconnect from macrogrids and operate autonomously, they can help alleviate grid disturbances.


A prime example is a project completed in north Phoenix by Aligned Data Centers and Arizona Public Service (APS). At the heart of the microgrid is a new 69-kilovolt, enhanced-capability substation located at Union Hills Drive and Interstate-17. Aligned’s Phoenix facility will be able to isolate itself from the grid proactively at times of increased grid congestion. This ultimately aids APS in more effectively managing the grid and delivering greater reliability to its customers.


“While we deliver full (uninterruptible power supply) and generator infrastructure for back-up power to our data center clients, we partnered with APS to deliver base utility power that, by itself, was more reliable than most data centers on the market today,” says Aligned CEO Jakob Carnemark.


Data centers can demand large loads on the grid, which, because of the type of information they store, require higher levels of reliability and power quality than most other large users of electricity. In the Aligned microgrid, four different power lines fed from three sources can bring electricity to the on-site substation. If one line experiences an outage, for example, the redundancy exists to ensure the data center continues to receive power.


Part of developing the area to support the new data center meant investing in this new, innovative energy generation and infrastructure upgrades. In addition to the substation, APS is working with Aligned to build another next gen, 63-megawatt microgrid project, further enhancing the facility’s reliability and security.


Meanwhile, APS has entered into another partnership — this time with the Department of the Navy — to develop an ultra-low-emission microgrid network at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma that will deliver reliable power during high usage periods. When fully operational, it will generate 25 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power more than 6,200 homes annually.


In addition, the microgrid will enhance reliability and security at the air station by generating backup power to keep the base online during power outages.


In southern Arizona, Caterpillar was working on its own project that seemed to be overshadowed by news that it is bringing to downtown Tucson its regional headquarters to handle surface mining and technology. While the announcement along with hundreds of related jobs should bring a new level of electricity to the Old Pueblo, the company has undergone an historic change to deliver a different type of power to its Tucson Proving Ground (TPG), located about 30 miles southwest of Tucson.


TPG, one of Caterpillar’s three global validation sites, had been off the regular grid since its operations began 25 years ago. That has meant it employees were left to rely on three diesel generator sets to power the offices and shop facilities. 


Caterpillar’s Electric Power, Marine, Oil & Gas division’s New Ventures team focused on changing the situation. The Product Development & Global Technology division offered TPG as an ideal setting for the flagship installation of a renewable energy project that pairs solar energy with Caterpillar generator sets and industry-leading energy storage technology. 


Now, just steps from the generator room that powers TPG, five acres of desert hills are covered with solar panels. The panels manufactured by First Solar and installed by Empire CAT are positioned to collect abundant solar energy, reducing the genset requirements.


Because the level of sunlight can fluctuate throughout the day due to passing clouds, the energy input at times is reduced dramatically. To make up for these frequent, sudden and unpredictable drops in energy, the microgrid solution uses bidirectional inverters and energy storage to balance out the load.  

This hybrid solution is expected to reduce the facility’s diesel fuel use and emissions by a third annually. Considering TPG uses 250,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually, the numbers translate into incredible benefits.


“The microgrid project has moved from concept to commercialization at an incredibly rapid pace, helping to bring sustainability to life here at TPG and to our customers around the world,” says Dave Damerell, global director of product validation for the Product Development & Global Techology division. “It just goes to show you the power of collaboration and innovation. We can do big things when we work together.”


Photo credit: Pixabay