New York’s Marcus Garvey Apartments complex looks like typical rows of low-rise apartments. Built in the mid-70s, the three-story, 10-block Brooklyn complex was intended to provide affordable housing and a neighborhood feel, distinct from the towering apartment buildings in Manhattan. A few decades later, however, the population and cost of living grew substantially. So did its electricity usage.
“Eventually, the 625 apartment units were identified as significant energy users within the Brooklyn-Queens region,” shared Nick Lombardi, Business Development Consultant with Demand Energy (now part of EnerNOC, an Enel Group Company), which designs and optimizes intelligent energy assets. “For example, they are master-metered, which means multiple suites are measured cumulatively on the same meter. They’re also electrically heated which, while typical of buildings in the 70s and 80s, developed into major consumers of energy. The complex hit a summer peak of 1.8 megawatts, and rose to 3.0 megawatts in the winters — and all because of the costly electric heat.”
What exacerbated this problem was that the local Brownsville substation, which served customers in Brooklyn and Queens, was quickly reaching its limit. Consolidated Edison predicted necessary transmission grid upgrades in the ballpark of $1.2 billion.
“There’s been a lot of development and growth in the region, which has put a lot of stress on the electric grid,” explained Lombardi. “Con Edison was aware that the growing capacity requirements would far exceed their infrastructure’s ability to handle the load demand.” Meeting demand challenges without breaking the bank meant thinking outside the conventional energy “box.”
Con Edison tested its Brooklyn-Queens Demand Management (BQDM) program, one of the first non-wire alternative projects. The program sets a goal of reducing peak load by 52 MW in the Brooklyn-Queens area through a combined customer (41 MW) and unconventional utility (11 MW) approach.
“This meant deferring billions of dollars in spending on new infrastructure to expand grid capacity, and taking a more progressive approach to address load issues. It also meant evaluating both the utility and customer side of the meter, while studying alternative sources of energy, such as renewables, efficiency, energy storage, and demand response,” he said.
The Department of Energy says a demand response program lets consumers play a role in the operation of an electric grid (or microgrid) by reducing or shifting their electricity use from peak periods in response to time-based rates or other financial incentives. Electric system planners and operators may use such programs as a resource option for balancing supply with demand. The goal is to lower the cost of electricity in wholesale markets, and in turn, to lower retail rates.
Let the renovations begin
Enter affordable housing developer, L+M Development Partners. The company acquired Marcus Garvey Apartments with plans for upgrades in late 2014. By 2016, it partnered with several companies and organizations, including the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority or NYSERDA, NYS Homes & Community Renewal, Demand Energy, and others.
Together, L+M and Demand Energy proposed to develop a first-of-its-kind solar, storage, and fuel-cell microgrid in New York. The microgrid was installed as part of a $190 million refinancing and renovation for Marcus Garvey Apartments, supported in part by Con Edison’s BQDM program.
“In addition to new kitchens, bathrooms, and other in-home apartment upgrades for efficiency — such as switching to LED lighting — the complex gained an interesting hybrid mix of renewable energy and battery storage,” said Lombardi.
The new system includes:
- 400 kilowatts (kW) of rooftop solar
- A 400-kW fuel cell that uses a solid oxide (ceramic electrolyte) in the fuel cell, from Bloom Energy
- 300 kW, 1,200 kWh of LG Chem lithium-ion batteries (the largest residential lithium-ion battery project in New York)
- Demand Energy’s Distributed Energy Network Operating System (DEN.OS), an intelligent DER management software platform
The microgrid began operating in April 2017, and leverages about 1.1 MW of power, which is significant compared to the previous summer and winter peaks.
“What makes this story unique is that solar was first installed as a stand-alone system on some 21 of the complex’s rooftops. Subsequently Bloom Energy proposed a fuel cell and, around the same time, Demand Energy proposed battery storage. It became an interesting confluence of different technologies that could bring the combined value of an integrated system for the property — a microgrid,” explained Lombardi. Demand Energy worked with L&M and the other suppliers to plan the integration and optimize the value of the microgrid with a battery.
The fuel cell consumes natural gas to provide base-load power for the microgrid. Solar peaks during daylight hours and fluctuates seasonally. The batteries then work to store excess power that would otherwise be lost.
Demand Energy’s DEN.OS aims to facilitate the design, integration, and operation of energy assets and services, providing users with the greatest financial returns across the broadest range of energy storage applications, utility rate structures, and economic use cases. The scalable platform can cover any market segment, including grid-side, utility-scale storage, microgrids, and conventional generation and distribution networks.
“The battery also serves as protection for the network serving Marcus Garvey Apartments. Con Edison made it clear that in this particular location, their system was unable to handle backfeeding or excess energy ‘dumping’ into the grid’ without additional expensive infrastructure upgrades,” he said. “So we designed and programmed the system such that anytime the solar is producing more energy than the property is consuming, the battery absorbs the power for later redistribution. Demand Energy’s software system is the brain that regulates and optimizes how the property uses energy from each asset at any time.”
According to Demand Energy, DEN.OS is a scalable energy management system that lets users analyze, communicate, and control their distributed energy resources to monitor energy usage and production in real time. A key aspect of this project was the ability of DEN.OS to ensure that the apartments self-consumed all of the energy generated, without exporting to the grid.
This capability helped facilitate the interconnection and permitting process. As part of the BDQM program, the complex is required to reduce its load between 8pm and 12am when Con Edison calls for load reduction to help support grid stability.
“DEN.OS is able to do this by continuously monitoring event signals,” said Lombardi. “What’s impressive is that it also reads price signals from the utility or demand response programs, and will note and act on those signals. For example, one signal may suggest operating tomorrow in demand response mode, instead of peak shaving, to generate cost savings or a return.”
Demand Energy says it expects the Marcus Garvey microgrid project to more than pay for itself through a combination of incentives from Con Edison, and ongoing revenue generated through participation in demand response and peak shaving power programs.
Lombardi said cost savings is a key benefit of entering a program such as BQDM. “BQDM is effectively a demand-response program specific to a territory. Those who participate have to conduct an M&V [measurement and verification] to verify their ability to deliver the load relief promised, but then the provider gets paid for offering capacity when the utility needs it. That is a significant value-add of a battery storage system.”
In New York Governor Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State address, he essentially re-committed the state to eliminating coal from its power plants in two years, while providing solar energy to 10,000 low-income New Yorkers and investing $260 million to fund energy storage pilots, deploy systems and eliminate barriers to its implementation.
Projects such as the Marcus Garvey Apartments microgrid are proving it possible to successfully rethink future energy needs and incorporate new systems. Last year, the project won Energy Storage North America’s Innovation Award for Distributed Storage, given at ESNA’s annual conference.
“This microgrid is a testament to innovative companies and organizations working together to build a cleaner, more efficient and intelligent distributed power grid and energy supply chain for a New York community,” said Lombardi.