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Direct current (DC) microgrids have significant potential in regards to utilizing energy more efficiently, yet many questions remain before these systems can be scaled to a commercial level in the building sector.  The Alliance Center is piloting our Direct Current Microgrid project and collaborating with industry thought leaders to highlight barriers to entry and the possibilities of adopting DC microgrids on a large scale.

HOW IT WORKS

Direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC) are two ways that energy can be transmitted in our current energy system. New generation sources, like solar panels, batteries and electronic devices, use DC energy while power plants generate and utility power lines transmit AC. Energy needs to be converted from AC to DC or DC to AC and back again before reaching its final end use. Every one of these conversations results in wasted energy. 

The Alliance Center’s DC microgrid removes the need for this conversion and makes it possible for us to take energy directly from our generators and power our building. 

WHY ARE MICROGRIDS IMPORTANT?

A closeup of solar panels on the roof of the Alliance with the Denver skyline in the background.

RESILIENCY

It’s estimated that two-thirds of energy from coal fired powered plants in our current system is lost from waste heat and distribution process. Distributed energy microgrids, where energy is generated and used on the same site, avoids these losses.    

Microgrids can also keep key systems operational during power outages or issues with the wider electrical grid.  This offers benefits for both short term interruptions as well as larger scale outages.  

Group of people stand on the roof of the Alliance whiel someone speaks to the crowd about solar panels.

SAVE ENERGY AND MONEY

Commercial buildings consume roughly half of our nation’s energy and native DC equipment (LED lights, mechanical components, etc.) comprises over 50 percent of a building’s total energy load. The Department of Energy projects that over 80 percent of energy will flow through electronics converters by 2030.  

That hot bulky thing on your laptops power cord is an electronics converter, changing alternating current from the grid to direct current. The heat is energy lost from the conversion. Removing the need for this conversion reduces the energy consumed. Microgrids present an opportunity to save energy, money and greenhouse gases generated from our electrical grid.

WE’RE WORKING WITH OUR PARTNERS TO:

Field test DC distribution equipment to provide the wider market with the real-world data needed to evaluate the potential costs and benefits of deploying DC microgrids

Identify the technical and operational limitations preventing the wider adoption of DC distribution

Provide a key real-world test of a DC microgrid’s efficiency gains and corresponding energy savings going straight from DC generation (solar in our case) to native DC equipment without any conversions along the way

PROJECT MILESTONES

Summer 2014 – Early Discussions

Spring 2015 – Collaboration efforts begin

Winter 2015 – DC installation design efforts begin

Spring 2016 – Data collection begins for AC network for baseline comparisons 

Fall 2016 – Formal plans submitted to City of Denver

Fall 2017 – Construction began

Fall 2017 – Project becomes part of a larger National Renewable Energy Laboratory study

Winter 2017 (Ongoing) – System testing began

Fall 2018 – Microgrid partner goes under

Fall 2019 – System is operational

If you are interested in participating in this project or have ideas on how we can best advance commercial distributed energy resources, contact Chris Bowyer, Director of Building Operations, today!