Lucky Kids: College Does Microgrid Test with Milbank Synap6

April 8, 2015
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How would you like to live here? Check out this community of four homes that runs off of a microgrid that produces, consumes and monitors all of its own power, completely independently from the electrical grid.

Missouri S&T microgrid

Tony Arnold of Missouri S&T shows its microgrid village.

It’s part of an active test at the Missouri University of Science & Technology (S&T).

The microgrid is separated from the normal electrical grid with its own local energy production and consumption, powered by solar panels atop each of four Solar Decathlon houses built by the university and occupied by students. Augmenting the solar power is a 5-kw natural gas-powered fuel cell, two racks of Lithium ion batteries for 52 kWh of energy storage—enough for up to two days—and a Milbank Synap6 energy management system.

There’s even a bi-directions electric vehicle (EV) charger from Milbank so the microgrid can experiment with charging a home from the car battery—also known as vehicle to grid (V2G).

I first came across Milbank when its Synap6 was featured at the New American Home showcase home at the 2014 International Builder’s Show. It was managing the power from the home’s solar array and generator, the tie to the main utility, and supplying power to an auxiliary heating system, and backup lighting. It could “island” the fridge, main floor AC, and some heating if needed, to power them when the electrical grid is down.

The Synap6 is really an intelligent six-input switch, much like an automatic transfer switch (ATS) from a generator, and with software to synchronize power sources and route power to various systems and appliances as needed, explains Milbank director of engineering Jason Bridges. Missouri S&T actually two bridges Synap6s.

It can provide flexible energy monitoring with user-defined rules, such as “if solar output is above 10k and batteries’ charge levels are at less than 10 percent, charge the batteries.”

So in the Internet of Things frenzy, is there a tie from intelligent energy switching to home control and automation? If there’s an economic need or resource constraint, like in California, such a system could be used to cool downstairs, then upstairs, and then the basement if needed, says Bridges.

He says Milbank is not seeing anything in the home yet that’s a complete energy management piece, but that something is going to be needed to bring everything together and coordinate how power flows, is stored and used and when—and that Milbank could develop the integration drivers for systems.

He sees a probability of systems like Synap6 to be used to help power a collection of cabins on a remote peak, for example, or by homeowners associations and landlords.

The testing continues at Missouri S&T.  “We believe a community microgrid can provide us with more information than a single residence. It’s more challenging to control and gets more people involved in the feedback,” says John Siglock, vice president of advanced research and technology at Milbank Manufacturing. The school and Milbank get data from a web site and can see the individual homes and solar power, what each home is producing, the fuel cell and minute-by-minute data.

Milbank says because of the high level of customized options and functionality specified, pricing is determined per project.

Lucky students. Why couldn’t they have had microgrids when I went to college?

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