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Promoting A Low-Carbon Future

EP Editorial Staff | June 1, 2021

The microgrid solar-plus-storage project combines a 5-MW solar system, approximately 1.1 MW/2.2 MWhr of battery storage, and 8 MW of existing backup generator capacity, all fully integrated with the facility’s existing electrical systems.

Microgrid manages power effectively for energy transition.

Development of a microgrid at its Arecibo, Puerto Rico, plant provided power-management company Eaton Corp., Beachwood, OH (eaton.com), with essential information on how the company approaches energy transition and accelerates a low-carbon future. John Vernacchia, the company’s energy transition segment director, provided insight about how the technology helps industrial operations safely add more renewables and energy storage, transforming operations to become more sustainable and resilient.    

How is the energy transition affecting industrial operations?

We see the energy transition as a massive transformation—one of the biggest changes happening in the world today. For industrials, it presents new opportunities to manage power far more effectively and get much more function from existing energy infrastructure.

It’s worth looking at the energy transition itself, which I see as being driven by three key trends:

• more renewable (and local) energy sources coming online

• increasing electrification as we shift to new sources of electricity and rely more upon digitalized tools

• changing structure of electricity distribution, as we move from a centralized to a decentralized model of energy generation.

We’ve developed an Everything as a Grid approach to the energy transition to help users accelerate decarbonization, boost resilience, reduce energy costs, and create new revenue streams. The approach helps customers optimally deploy distributed energy resources and support electric-vehicle charging infrastructure, while better managing existing electrical infrastructure and preparing for future requirements.

We recently announced a microgrid project at our Arecibo manufacturing plant in Puerto Rico, where we make circuit breakers for a range of applications. By integrating solar generation and battery storage, the microgrid enables us to reduce our carbon footprint and demand on local energy infrastructure, while improving energy resilience by allowing critical processes to continue if the local electrical grid is down.

What can industrial enterprises do to make the most of the energy transition?

The new power paradigm created by the energy transition is enabling plants of all sizes to readily generate and store their own power to optimize costs, lower carbon footprint, advance resilience and, in some cases, reduce reliance on the grid. To realize these benefits, traditional electrical infrastructure must be modernized to:

• integrate renewables in the energy system and consume more self-generated power to lower the carbon footprint

• advance resilience by locally generating and managing electricity

• optimize energy use, cutting energy costs even as energy needs increase by leveraging digitalization and IoT to collect data that enables smarter, more informed decisions

• generate new revenue by selling excess energy back to the local grid.

For more than a century, the electrical systems powering industrial operations were designed based on historical data, meeting legacy energy requirements, weather patterns, and expectations. Now, more than ever, manufacturers need infrastructure that’s able to adapt to change. That means designing electrical systems to support the energy challenges ahead, so the power stays on, no matter what.

How does the Everything as a Grid approach work and, specifically, how does it help industrials reach sustainability or energy-management goals?

The Everything as a Grid approach to energy transition allows traditional power consumers (including our own manufacturing plants) to reduce their carbon footprint and demand on local energy infrastructure while improving energy resilience.

The benefit of on-site power (transforming traditional energy consumers into producers) is that you can control generation and all of the interconnecting points.

In the microgrid in Puerto Rico, the solar-plus-storage project combines a 5-MW solar system, approximately 1.1 MW/2.2 MWhr of battery storage, and 8 MW of existing backup generator capacity, all of which are fully integrated with the facility’s existing electrical systems. Our microgrid control technology will balance where, when, and how electricity is consumed, to ensure resiliency for the site, including during grid outage events.

About 60% of our local electricity needs will now come from the solar panels set up in an adjacent field. During periods of excess generation, the project enables our manufacturing plant to share clean energy back into Puerto Rico’s electrical grid.

What new technologies do you see supporting industrial operations in the future?

Our approach transforms existing electrical infrastructure to make new energy habits possible, advancing a far more resilient and sustainable future and meeting goals today, while planning for tomorrow. This approach leverages digitalization and connectivity that’s behind powerful decisions.

Digitalization is foundational to our approach to the energy transition. A digital future—connected devices, data models, insights, and analytics—will help more efficiently solve critical power-management problems. IIoT-enabled devices can help inform smarter business decisions, providing new insights into existing and upgraded infrastructure, so that we can more effectively and efficiently unlock a low-carbon future. EP

For more information, visit eaton.com.

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