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Combined heat and power (CHP) technologies are sometimes overlooked as important assets that can be deployed in Smart Grids and microgrids in North America. Also known as cogeneration, it is defined in the Smart Grid Dictionary as the production of electricity and useful thermal energy from a single fuel source, typically located at or near the point of consumption. The thermal energy is typically used for heating, cooling, or applied to specific processes.   CHP deserves more consideration in microgrid designs and deployments. Ongoing technology advances in combustion turbines result in much more energy-efficient equipment, and that means that the solutions are more powerful and occupy smaller form factors than in the past. That opens up more possibilities for installations within microgrids that are strategically placed to build infrastructure resiliency.

CHP technologies take a prominent role in one of the initial European microgrid initiatives, the Smart Polygeneration Microgrid (SPM) project installed in the Savona campus of the University of Genoa in Italy. The Savona campus is a research and teaching facility, and the SPM presents invaluable educational opportunities. Professor Renato Procopio, a researcher at the university, noted that the SPM serves dual purposes.   “First, the SPM satisfies part of the campus’s electrical and thermal demands, integrating a number of heterogeneous sources,” he noted. “Second, it moves the university’s power systems research beyond theoretical analysis and into experimental validation and verification.”

Polygeneration refers to the microgrid’s multiple sources of energy. There are natural gas-fueled boilers plus thermal storage, electrical storage in the form of batteries, renewable generation from solar photovoltaic and concentrated solar power (CSP) equipment.   The campus-based control room uses operational strategies provided by the University of Genoa. Leveraging a Microgrid Manager from Siemens, it delivers day-ahead predictions of energy production from renewable sources and provides realtime control of all the generation assets, including optimized charging and discharging of the batteries to align with the renewables contributions to the system.

The microgrid incorporates a microcosm of the electricity value chain (generation to consumption) with its inclusion of an energy management solution to monitor and control electric consumption in a student housing building. Some of the research addresses the social aspects of electricity consumption – students will receive realtime information about consumption to help them make more educated decisions about how and when to use electricity.

Installed in February 2014, the SPM is the first project in Italy that also focuses on interconnection to the distribution grid operated by ENEL Distribuzione, using smart meters to gain useful measurements about the power and energy balance of the microgrid. This data will provide an important base of knowledge for future deployments of microgrids as autonomous entities that can communicate with local distribution grid operators and provide ancillary services that could help in improving the quality of the electric energy services.

Renato Procopio will be presenting initial results of the University’s microgrid project in the Building Resiliency with Microgrids conference track managed by Christine Hertzog at European Utility Week on November 5. Join us there to learn more about the innovative solutions and array of benefits that microgrids are designed to provide.

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    Some microgrids have one generation source, but this Italian microgrid leverages renewables, energy storage, and CHP for polygeneration.

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