How Business Parks Can Benefit from Solar Microgrids

27 Aug 2020

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A large business park can pay millions in electricity bills each year, and projects that reduce these costs are attractive from an investment standpoint. Solar microgrids are emerging as a viable solution, since they combine the low electricity cost of solar panels with the reliability required for commercial and industrial facilities.

Ideally, the power supply for a business park should meet two main conditions:

  • Offering the lowest possible kWh price, to minimize electricity costs for companies.
  • Offering a reliable power supply with stable voltage and frequency, to prevent disruption.

Solar power systems can now deliver electricity at a lower cost than traditional power plants fired by fossil fuels. Thanks to economies of scale, large solar farms can now beat the kWh cost of coal power plans, which have long been considered the cheapest source of electricity. The main disadvantage of solar panels is not being able to operate as a stand-alone power source, since their output depends on the sunshine available.

When solar power systems are deployed as part of a microgrid, many of their limitations disappear. If site conditions are suitable, they can be combined with other renewable sources such as wind power, hydropower and biomass. A microgrid can also include battery systems to store surplus production from renewables, and natural gas turbines for additional reliability. 

Microgrids can stay connected to the local electricity grid, as an additional power supply. However, they can disconnect and operate on their own for convenience. For example, a microgrid can continue operating on its own if part of the local grid is damaged by extreme weather. On the other hand, a business park that relies 100% on the local power supply may be forced to stop operations in this case.

Why Solar Power Is Ideal for Microgrids

Since solar power systems use photovoltaic modules, they can be scaled up or down depending on the size of each building. Solar panels are also simple devices that require little maintenance, and they can be used with most types of roofs. When a microgrid uses solar panels as the main source of electricity, every building in the microgrid is essentially a power plant.

Another advantage of solar power systems is using an abundant and free resource that reaches the site by itself – sunlight. This is especially true for Australia, a country that gets enough sunshine to cover its energy needs 10,000 times, according to Geoscience Australia.

In the case of business parks, solar panels allow a more efficient use of land. For the development company, each square metre of land can become a source of rent payments and energy. Also, having access to low-cost and low-carbon electricity can help attract tenants – they can lower their operating costs, while improving their corporate image and reducing their environmental footprint.

Renewable sources like wind power and hydropower are also viable in microgrids, but they depend on specific site conditions. The same can be said of biomass, which requires access to a large source of organic waste, or land to harvest biomass crops. On the other hand, solar panels are not demanding in terms of site conditions, and they don’t require additional land when mounted on rooftops.

Making Solar Microgrids Reliable for Business Operations

As mentioned above, the main limitation of solar panels is their dependence on direct sunlight. Their output is reduced drastically with cloudy weather, and it becomes zero at night. Solar power systems offer the low-cost electricity required by business parks, but they cannot offer a reliable power supply by themselves.

A microgrid can offer this reliability by combining solar panels with other energy resources. In most cases, there are three main options:

The microgrid can rely on solar arrays as the main source of energy, while these energy resources are used to balance supply and demand. For example, surplus generation from solar panels can be stored in batteries, or exported to the local grid if the feed-in tariff is favorable. On the other hand, sudden power demands from companies can be covered by the combination of charged batteries, gas turbines and electricity from the grid.

Power metering is very important for a microgrid, since it provides a clear picture of how electricity is moving between buildings and energy resources. The combination of accurate metering, data analysis and automation can optimize a microgrid, reaching the lowest possible kWh price.

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