2021 proved to be another year of disruption — from the ongoing pandemic to continued extreme weather events. As storms, fires, floods and warmer temperatures blanketed the world, the resulting devastation underscored the need for cleaner energy to cut carbon emissions and resilient power supply systems to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Fueled by growing urgency and further enabled by the decreasing cost of energy storage, microgrids and hybrid power systems have taken center stage. 2021 saw microgrids accelerate along a path of rapid growth and innovation.
Despite the many challenges the year brought, professionals in the energy industry continued to research, develop and deliver clean distributed energy to millions of customers. Our worldwide community of Microgrid News readers was a significant part of these successes, providing renewable power to an extraordinary variety of clients, including commercial and industrial customers, utilities and the most remote rural villages imaginable.
Over the year, the articles we’ve shared highlight industry trends and changes, as well as notable microgrid projects. But our favorite stories are those that feature you, our readers. Project by project, you have worked to change an energy paradigm that is more than a century old — designing, inventing and ushering in new technologies and business models. You have modeled complex, high-tech projects in large cities and navigated technical challenges to deliver affordable results to communities with limited resources.
In the spirit of honoring those contributions, we would like to share a selection of our favorite and most significant stories from 2021.
1. The energy transition builds momentum in the U.S.
The tide has turned toward renewable hybrid power in the U.S., evidenced by new federal funding, state incentive programs, and the launch of the new microgrid policy education association, Think Microgrid.
Market intelligence firm Guidehouse Insights and Think Microgrid issued reports showing how microgrids can create jobs and bolster economic growth. Guidehouse Insights’ report, “The Renewable Energy Economic Benefits of Microgrids,” lays out a compelling case for investing in microgrids, based not only on climate resilience factors but also on economic resilience.
Think Microgrid’s newly released educational paper, “Microgrids: An Immediate Climate Solution,” helps policymakers understand how microgrids can help provide critical solutions to climate challenges by mitigating economic impacts for both individual citizens and the economy.
Read three stories on the changing role of hybrid power in the U.S:
2. Results-based financing improves access to capital in developing countries
With its abundance of natural renewable energy resources, Africa has the potential to develop resilient, low-carbon clean energy systems and deliver reliable electricity to those who currently lack access. Microgrids play an essential role in the transition to renewable energy in Africa, with their ability to provide clean electricity access to the approximately 580 million people without power.
However, microgrid financing is a crucial barrier to this process. One promising solution to increase capital flows to microgrids is results-based financing (RBF). According to the World Bank, RBF emphasizes development impacts by linking project funding to pre-agreed and verifiable results.
3. A Colorado car dealership invests in resilience
What is the cost of an outage? For a Colorado car dealership, the lost business is consequential, so it installed an innovative grid-tied, solar-plus-storage microgrid that provides many benefits today.
Ehrlich Toyota, a dealership in Greeley, Colorado, experienced between two and four prolonged power outages during business hours each year — interruptions that caused significant financial losses for the company. Intense weather events, including car-damaging hailstorms, exacerbated this financial strain by triggering rising insurance rates. So the business contracted IPOWER Alliance to design and install a renewables-based microgrid for resiliency.
IPOWER Alliance engaged Ageto Energy, which used HOMER® Grid software to model a 100% renewable grid-tied system.
Read about the resulting system: The Need for Operational Resilience Drives Microgrid Innovation
4. A microgrid delivers cost-cutting and sustainability for an off-grid gold mine in Mali
HOMER Pro became part of a large off-grid mining project in the summer of 2021 with the commissioning of a new microgrid at the Fekola Gold Mine in Mali, West Africa. The ambitious hybrid power project incorporates solar plus energy storage into the plant’s existing 64-megawatt (MW) thermal plant. The project was brought to fruition by the cooperative work and expertise of international gold producer B2Gold, renewable energy advisers Suntrace, and global renewable energy company BayWa r.e.
According to BayWa r.e., the installation is the world’s largest hybrid power system to serve an off-grid mine. The project includes a 30 MW solar plant and 15.4 megawatt-hours of battery storage integrated with the facility’s existing heavy oil power generation system.
Read how they did it: Fekola Gold Mine Builds Solar Power Into Existing Thermal Plant
5. Rwanda deployed an innovative strategy to electrify transportation
Although Rwanda has among the lowest per capita carbon emissions in the world, it has already experienced devastating climate impacts, including flooding and landslides. To combat further global warming, the Rwandan government has identified reforms in the transportation sector as a prerequisite for achieving ambitious climate goals. The country plans to introduce electric vehicles (EV) and widespread electrification of the country’s transportation system as one carbon reduction strategy.
But adding EVs is only part of the equation. The cars also need to be powered up, which will require new charging stations — a vital part of the investment necessary to make the program a success, researcher Kwitonda Japhet explained during the ninth annual HOMER Microgrid and Hybrid Power International Conference. In the session titled “C&I Behind-the-meter Projects and EV Charging: Moving Toward a More Resilient, Mobile Electrified Future,” Japhet described using HOMER Grid to model renewably powered charging stations for the capital city of Kigali.
6. Adding renewable hybrid power to conventional power plants
A change-over is under way. Fossil-based power plants are now being decarbonized with the addition of renewable energy resources, storage and hydrogen and reconfigured as microgrids or grid-tied hybrid power plants. One company working on that challenge is Siemens Energy, a Siemens spin-off created in 2020 to help customers transition to more sustainable energy sources. Microgrid News interviewed Siemens Microgrid Product Manager Dino Ablakovic about his work furthering the transition.