North Carolina creates state’s first microgrid laboratory, using Tesla Powerpacks

On a bitterly cold day in March 2015, power was interrupted from mainland Hatteras, North Carolina to an offshore island, Ocracoke. The reason? “Galloping lines,” or ice on the power lines that shorts out electricity delivery. Tideland Electric Membership Corporation, which supplies the island’s electricity, resorted to the only alternative: it fired up the island’s 3-megawatt generator, but electric demand exceeded the generator’s capacity numerous times that day. If you live on the Ocracoke, this was just one more instance of having to do without electrical power due to extreme weather.

But that’s all about to change.

With the installation of Tesla batteries and solar panels at the island’s generator, Ocracoke will become the state’s first microgrid laboratory. Tesla shipped ten of the 4,000-lb. Tesla Powerpack batteries combined to North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation’s (NCEMC) generating plant on Odd Fellows Lane. Tideland installed the 1 MWh photovoltaic system on December 13. “We’re setting up here for the electricity of the future,” said NCEMC’s Bob Beadle, project manager, as he participated in the installation.

The initiative is a pilot project from NCEMC, which owns the island’s generator, and Tideland. “This is a learning laboratory for Tideland,” said Heidi Jernigan Smith, Tideland spokesperson. “We’re exploring the potential for a microgrid.” She added that Ocracoke’s challenging coastal environment offered an ideal experiment site.

When connected to the grid, the batteries are charged during periods of low demand and store energy. The electricity is available to the grid when demand peaks and power is more expensive. While the batteries do not have the capacity to power Ocracoke during an outage, they will be able to assist the generator. “The Tesla batteries could potentially help us get over that start-up load,” Smith said. “It will be interesting to learn what benefits can be derived from the various microgrid components over time.”

The project will help all constituents to gain knowledge about how community microgrids can become another mechanism for regional electric service. “This is new territory for everyone,” Smith admitted. “We’re gaining valuable information for the future.”

The U. S. Department of Energy defines a microgrid as “a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid and that connects and disconnects from such grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island mode.” Microgrids are an emerging segment of an electrical system infrastructure that helps isolated or remote areas become independent of large, centrally controlled power plants. As they draw upon efficient, renewable energy resources, microgrids in places like Ocracoke can provide data about the role of new technologies in future electric service delivery.

Another Tesla island project earlier this year on the American Samoa island of T’au, at 1.4 megawatts, can cover “nearly 100%” of its 600 residents’ electrical needs.

“Tideland is pleased to serve as host for NCEMC’s first microgrid project and the opportunity it affords our employees to learn about next generation energy technologies,” said Paul Spruill, Tideland’s chief executive officer and general manager. “We are also appreciative of our sister co-ops across the state for funding this project, which will all stand to gain from our collective knowledge base as the energy industry evolves.” The next time that the power is interrupted, Ocracoke may be able to manage its limited power resources as an independent system.

Smart technology is interwoven into Ocracoke’s microgrid in another way, too. 130+ Ocracoke homes have installed Ecobee thermostats from Tideland. Another example of the Internet of Things (IoT), these devices allow Tideland remote access to residents’ thermostat settings. Tideland can reduce energy usage during times of peak electricity. Homeowners can also use smart phones or other computers to monitor and control their thermostat settings, with expected saving of up to 23% on a monthly utility bill.

Source: Ocracoke Observer

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