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A new test for urban microgrids

Megan Hernbroth
Apr 14, 2022
Illustration of a solar panel coming out of the dome of the US Capitol building.
Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Scale Microgrid Solutions, a sustainable-energy company that designs and finances energy projects, wants to tackle the urban solar conundrum in the shadow of Capitol Hill.

Why it matters: A successful solar project in an urban area is much harder to come by than those in open spaces. Overcoming the complex challenges and space limitations is key to wide-scale solar deployment.

Driving the news: Scale Microgrid Solutions developed and financed an energy project for Washington, D.C.,-based Gallaudet University.

  • The project's design is already underway, Scale CEO Ryan Goodman tells Axios, and the university is expected to flip the switch by late 2023.

By the numbers: Goodman says the Gallaudet project was particularly challenging due to its urban location.

  • Its microgrid consists of 2.5 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic panels spread across numerous campus rooftops, dorms and parking garages.
  • It also includes a Tesla Megapack 1.2 MW/2.5 MWh lithium-ion battery for energy storage.
  • The last component is a 4.5 MW combined cooling, heat and power system.
  • It is forecast to generate much of the university's energy needs, Scale says, with any additional power going to buildings in the community.

State of play: Urban solar deployments remain out of vogue for many energy producers, largely because of the engineering feats associated with constructing rooftop solar on buildings of various sizes and heights.

  • It is still most common for energy producers to transport energy from far-flung solar farms to higher-density areas, losing some of that power in the process.
  • At Gallaudet, instead of laying new cable to connect the university's grid to the utility, Scale's design connects directly to the university's existing electrical infrastructure that is monitored by the utility, cutting a costly component of urban microgrid deployment.

💭 Our thought bubble: Scale's project is still more than a year away from generating meaningful power, so it's too early to tell whether the project could be a model for further urban solar projects.

  • But the project itself indicates a growing risk tolerance of project designers and financiers to look beyond traditional solar farms as the overall costs of solar components continue to drop.
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