News Brief

“Grid Optimal” Buildings Can Smooth Transition to Renewables

A new initiative helps solve problems that arise between utilities and their customers when electricity users are also electricity suppliers.

November 5, 2018

Power lines

There are five major strategies for optimizing buildings for the grid. The most important is energy efficiency.

Photo: Pixabay. License: Public domain.
Getting a solar array on your project might seem like a huge triumph, but there could be a downside. Too much “distributed generation” (grid-connected power generation coming from individual buildings) can disrupt how the electrical grid works, causing problems for utilities. A new initiative called Grid Optimal from the New Buildings Institute (NBI) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) aims to help individual buildings become “better grid citizens,” in the words of Brendan Owens, P.E., SVP at USGBC.

“When buildings that generate their own electricity aren’t designed and operated to be integrated parts of the energy system, they can impact it unpredictably, which can lead to serious concerns,” explained Owens in an email. For example, he said, buildings may be producing energy from photovoltaics (PV) “at a time when the grid is already saturated with renewable energy,” reducing the benefit of the solar array. To solve this problem, a “grid-optimal” building might use onsite storage, then deliver energy to the grid “for use later in the day when the sun isn’t shining.”

In another scenario, a building may be demanding too much energy instead of providing too much. An approach known as “demand response,” when a building reduces its peak electricity load in order to take stress off the grid, can help here.

Owens points to a number of strategies for achieving grid optimization, including:

  • energy efficiency
  • renewable energy generation
  • electrical and thermal storage
  • load-shape optimization
  • peak-load management

The Grid Optimal Buildings Initiative aims to provide tools, standards, and guidance for building owners and building professionals, according to Owens. More information is available at the NBI website.

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