Ameren Launches Utility-Voltage Microgrid Serving Illinois University

Midwest utility powerhouse Ameren is attempting to turn a potential disruptor into a business opportunity at their Technology Application Center (TAC), where they claim to have one of the most advanced microgrids in North America.  The facility is adjacent to the University of Illinois Champaign campus.

The utility microgrid, or Milligrid, is one of the first to serve actual customer loads on a utility feeder.  The project finished construction in December 2016, followed by testing in the first quarter of 2017.

The facility will help Ameren test monitoring and control methods for aggregating energy sources with advanced automation and energy storage.

“Integrating microgrids onto our system can provide cleaner energy and a stronger, smarter grid capable of delivering the products and services to fit the needs of our future customers and the communities we serve,” said Warner Baxter, chairman, president and CEO of Ameren Corporation. “There is no better time than now to innovate and position Ameren for even better results in the years ahead.”

Microgrid Breakdown
  • Northern Power Systems Wind Turbine 100 kilowatts
  • Yingli Solar Array 125 kilowatts
  • Caterpillar Natural Gas Generator – 1,000 kilowatts
  • S&C Electric Company Battery Storage – 250 kilowatts

Ameren is a large natural gas supplier, with over 900,000 natural gas customers, so it’s no surprise the microgrid leans heavily on 1000kW of natural gas generators.   The microgrid has additional 125kW of solar PV and a 100kW wind turbine, and batteries that can store up to 250 kW.

Ameren cites high customer demand for energy independence, and hopes the Champaign project will help them advance their ability to meet demand.  While many universities opt to build and manage their own microgrids and CHP plants, Ameren hopes to find more partners in their utility-university microgrid model.

Ameren’s microgrid in Champaign is unique in that it operates at utility-scale voltages between 4-kilovolts and 34.5-kilovolts with multiple levels of control.  Operating at high voltage opens almost endless opportunities for microgrids at utility scale, where they can help defer transmission investments, increase renewable penetration, and avoid blackouts.

The TAC microgrid can seamlessly transition power sources on the utility grid, essentially islanding an entire distribution circuit.

“Integrating microgrids onto our system can provide cleaner energy and a stronger, smarter grid capable of delivering the products and services to fit the needs of our future customers and the communities we serve,” said Warner Baxter, chairman, president and CEO of Ameren Corporation. “There is no better time than now to innovate and position Ameren for even better results in the years ahead.”

According to Ameren’s Keith Anderson, industry experts are calling this the most advanced utility scale microgrid in North America.  “It’s really exciting to put together one of our nations first microgrids that is serving real customer loads, on a real feeder, doing seamless transition back onto the utility.”

“This is all about the customer, this is not about the utility. We know the customers are wanting this, whether the green generation or whatever that may be or the increased reliable.”

 

 

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