The U.S. installed more microgrids in 2019 than ever before

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In Wood Mackenzie’s newest report, US microgrid forecast H1 2020: Coronavirus delays projects and impacts origination, the organization shares that 546 microgrids were installed in the United States during 2019, more than any other year.

Even more impressively, 67% of those nearly 550 microgrids were installed by just three organizations: PowerSecure, Enchanted Rock and The American Red Cross, with The Red Cross being the only group among the big three to integrate energy storage into their projects, pairing them with solar at non-residential locations.

And yet, while 2019 saw nearly 50% growth in the number of microgrids installed, total installed capacity was down 7% from 2018. What’s more is that distributed fossil generation accounted for 86% of installed microgrid capacity in 2019. The share of renewable microgrid projects is expected to rise, with WoodMac anticipating that solar, wind, hydropower and energy storage will account for 35% of annually installed capacity by 2025.

One of these forthcoming renewable microgrid projects will be used to power the Santa Barbara Unified School District in California. The District, in collaboration with Sage Energy Consulting, has issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the design, installation, operation and maintenance of solar-driven microgrids across 15 sites. These sites include three high schools, four junior high schools, six elementary schools, a district office/continuation high school, and a facilities warehouse.

According to the RFP, six of the proposed sites are anticipated to host microgrids with two to six hours of available islanding mode backup built into the design. In total, the projects are expected to clock in at 4.5 MW of solar capacity, accompanied by up to 6 MWh of battery storage capacity.

If the final Santa Barbara project ends up 4 MW of solar with 6 MWh of battery storage, that will put it at almost the exact average of typical of project capacity. The WoodMac report outlines that the majority of microgrid systems installed last year were below 5 MW, making 2019 the third year in a row where sub-5 MW systems dominated.

As for 2020, there have been 129 microgrid projects completed thus far. While this currently puts 2020 on track to finish with fewer projects than both 2019 and 2018, much like solar and storage, a considerable portion of projects are completed in the second half of the year, meaning the final number has the chance to be much higher.