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Innovative microgrid will help keep the juice flowing

The Franklin Times

YOUNGSVILLE -- Famously, astronaut Neil Armstrong said 'the Eagle has landed' when the lunar module touched down on the moon.

While maybe not as boundary breaking, representatives with Wake Electric and Winslow Homes said the Eagle Chase subdivision is ground zero for new ways to make communities more resilient to energy loss prompted by disaster.

"[Eagle Chase] is a very special neighborhood in that there is no other neighborhood like this, anywhere," said Don Bowman, Wake Electric's Vice President of Engineering and Operations.

"It's the start of sort of a revolution in our industry."

Eagle Chase's microgrid is a communitywide, backup power source system that's a collaboration between Wake Electric and the developer, Winslow Homes.

Initially developer Matthew Winslow intended to install whole home generators at each of the 31 homes.

But, after a chance meeting with Wake Electric engineers, that plan took on a broader scale.

Instead of 31 separate generators that homeowners would buy and maintain, Wake Electric sold Winslow on the idea of developing a microgrid.

That plan included installing two 150-kilowatt generators, and in partnership with North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation (NCEMC), adding a 1-megawatt-hour/500 kW Tesla PowerPack battery system.

The two generators are enough to power the entire neighborhood for up to 36 hours when thunderstorms, ice, downed power lines or other accidents might otherwise have meant a power outage.

The system also saves the expense and noise of installing and operating 31 separate generators, developers said.

"... This could very well be the future of what the electric industry looks like because, as you can imagine, it's very difficult to build nuclear," Bowman said. "It's impossible to build coal.

"We're limited in what we can do with natural gas, but that's available.

"What we're starting to see is more and more often, you're going to see these edge of the grid type of distributed generation and that is what Eagle Chase is."

Winslow said he's always seeking innovation and knew he wanted Eagle Chase to be on that cutting edge.

The partnership with Wake Electric made that happen, he said.

"... I love innovation," he said. "I love pushing boundaries. I love trying new things.

"... [Wake Electric] was waiting for the right time for this to happen."

Wake Electric, Bowman said, started hearing about microgrids and distributed energy within the industry a few years ago, but expected it to primarily be a commercial application.

But, after seeing the growth in Wake and Franklin counties, Bowman said he figured it would first have residential applications, here.

The Eagle Chase project is one of about five developments across the state, Bowman noted.

But, they are different.

There is one on Ocracoke Island that is a mix of solar panels, generators and batteries.

One in Lillington uses anaerobic digestion of swine waste to generate electricity to support a farm.

There is one in Shallotte, Bowman said, that is similar to the Eagles Chase project, however, the homes there are smaller.

There is also a farm in the eastern part of the state, Bowman said, that thanks to a local cooperative there, has developed a system using solar plus a microgrid to meet the renewable and green energy requirements to continue being a supplier for a large client.

"All of these five grids are great success stories," Bowman said. "... I just wanted the folks here [in Eagle Chase] to know this is a very special place."

While the microgrid at Eagle Chase is designed to provide power to all the homes in the development for 36 hours, it can provide more sustained power if necessary.

"One of the good things is the generator is 300 kW and we think the neighborhood will use 200 kW," Bowman said. "That gives us 100 kW to recharge the battery and feathering back and forth to make it a little bit longer.

"We hope we never have to put that kind of situation into place, but it's there."

The service costs residents a monthly fee added to their utility bill for 20 years -- an ultimate financial savings for residents and peace of mind.

"If you think about it, a whole home generator is $12,000," he said. "[With this], at 20 years, you've spent $6,000 and you haven't had to maintain it, it's always there and we keep it gassed up.

"It's a great deal and obviously, you have economies of scale a microgrid versus 31 whole home generators."


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