HOMER Grid bridges the communications gap with an essential new tool for hybrid energy projects

When the Golden Gate Bridge was first proposed in 1872, no one thought that the one-mile opening in San Francisco’s bay—a straight called Chrysopylae, or “golden gate” in Greek—could be connected by a bridge. The distance between land, coupled with the powerful ocean currents, made it daunting. But with sophisticated engineering, in 1937 the two points of land were joined.

In distributed energy projects worldwide, today’s formidable straight often lies at the communication level—between the system designer and client. How do engineers and microgrid project managers bridge this gap? We reached out to top industry professionals to learn about the solutions they find most effective.

Take time to educate clients and explain complex energy systems

Consultants and installers across the US report that educating clients is key since today’s customers are often new to hybrid projects. Many are exploring new technologies and system architectures, making thoughtful explanation and clear articulation of new technologies and modeling results an important component of successful project development. 

Companies like Colorado-based Ageto Energy find themselves performing educational support in order to move projects forward. And, as COO Mike Murray explains, they’re happy to do so in order to maintain momentum. 

“Nobody benefits if customers spin their wheels and decide that renewables aren’t the best choice,” he says. He and his team feel that spending a little extra time educating their customers has a positive ripple effect. While the additional effort may take time, it can help elevate the industry as a whole, while also establishing a deeper sense of client trust.

“The most important thing is to make sure that all entities—solar installers, project developers, component manufacturers—are focused on making it work, have a sense of mutual trust, and all understand the complexities of the project. That’s crucial.” Murray explains.

Real load data ensures the best results

Having good data is also essential to project success, explains Murray. As an example, he reflects on a project in Colorado that his team worked on recently. They installed an eGauge energy metering system and collected one month’s usage data. They were then able to model loads and scale correctly, using HOMER Grid to identify the ideal battery size needed to store excess power from 360 kw of solar PV panels and determine precisely how much energy storage capacity would be required to minimize curtailment. 

The project site, Murray relates, was located at the end of a radial feeder line and experienced frequent outages. Since resiliency and minimizing business disruption was also a priority for this project, HOMER Grid also allowed him to model potential outages.  

For this project, Ageto found that a hybrid system meant only a 15%-20% cost increase over a straight PV system. “I was surprised. It was much less than I expected. And now there is enough PV generation to keep the lights on during a daytime outage event, and sufficient battery storage to keep power flowing into the nighttime.”

He also finds that having good data can help troubleshoot otherwise confounding issues such as a component that’s not operating efficiently or a battery that’s not cycling properly. With system data collected by a smart controller, diagnoses such as these are simplified.

Use tools to facilitate communication

In the pre-feasibility stages of a complex hybrid energy design project, it can be daunting to communicate the characteristics and likely performance to a diverse team, in order to sell the concept. That team might include engineers, construction people, financiers, and permitting authorities.  But it can be time-consuming to produce customer-facing documents. While some companies have graphic design teams at their disposal and can allocate man-hours to creating customized reports, others find themselves challenged to relate project details to customers, especially non-technical folks.

Client communication forms a large part of the project success equation. Therefore, the newest version of HOMER Grid features a built-in proposal generating tool that instantly produces reports with modeling results—a feature that gives system designers an advantage in today’s competitive project development environment. The software’s ability to quickly create graphics-driven proposals that convey the project’s value to all players has quickly earned a reputation as a communication game-changer. 

With easily customizable formatting options and design features, this integrated tool consolidates complex energy system data into an easily understandable report that outlines the lifetime cash flows as well as the generation and storage details of the proposed hybrid energy system. 

HOMER Grid also has an important new feature that will allow users to experiment with different control strategies: The Matlab controller API is now fully incorporated into the HOMER Grid software, allowing developers and engineers to simulate the dispatch of renewable energy resources more easily, with real-world data and specific hardware components.

The design of hybrid microgrid power systems can be complex and challenging due to the unwieldy number of uncertainties and the variability of renewable power sources, HOMER Grid helps reduce these challenges with its advanced approach to modeling grid-tied energy systems, which, when coupled with its new communication features, can help bridge the project development gap.

UL Solutions HOMER Grid is a market-leading solar-plus-storage software tool for designing grid-tied distributed energy systems. With an integrated utility tariff database and a new module for electric vehicle charging stations, it optimizes peak shaving to help commercial and industrial utility customers lower their demand charges. HOMER Grid can model projects with wind and combined heat and power as well as islanded systems, helping users improve their resiliency. Explore your opportunities with HOMER Grid during a complimentary trial. Learn more and download your complimentary trial.