There are all sorts of potential futures in how, what and where we will receive our electrical power. New configurations are playing out across the country through demos, real-world applications and legislative directives. Electrical contractors (ECs) play a crucial role in this bold future. The GridSTAR program in Philadelphia is one project where educators, engineers and ECs have come together to discover the possibilities in providing clean, renewable-electric power in a business park that was once a U.S. Navy shipyard.

The GridSTAR Smart Grid Experience Center rests within the Philadelphia Navy Yard, a 1,200-acre waterfront redevelopment property. In its heyday, it was one of the country’s largest ship building, housing and maintenance yards. Today, it is an ever-expanding smart energy campus committed to energy innovation and sustainability. While the Navy retains 200 acres on the site, the majority of the real estate consists of industrial and manufacturing (3.5 million square feet) and retail represented in equal footage. The site’s goal for full capacity is 18 million square feet by mid-2020.

“We have 11,500 people working here [Navy Yard] representing 145 organizations, including GridSTAR,” said William J. Agate Jr., senior vice president of Navy Yard management and development for the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC), a public-private economic development corporation. “To date, 30 historic buildings are renovated; 11 of 14 newly constructed buildings are LEED certified—two Platinum. The sustainable strategies applied allow us to demonstrate new resilient practices no matter what building type.”

Generating some of its own power is a Navy Yard goal. A Bloom Energy hydrogen fuel cell is on-site. A natural gas-fired “peaker,” generating up to 6 megawatts (MW), is expected. The yard is also investigating looping geothermal with combined heat and power (CHP) and is investing in smart metering, communication systems and a network operations center (NOC). And then there’s GridSTAR.

“With the Navy Yard, we understand we own the largest nonmilitary, nonregulated electric grid in the country,” Agate said. “We want to be an example to others as we explore the best strategies for more energy choice and energy efficiency. The GridSTAR Center aligns itself perfectly with our aspirations.”

Microgrid ambitions

The Navy Yard is in the early stages of its microgrid deployment. It currently buys 98 percent of its power from PECO, a major utility.

“Technically, we are not yet a microgrid, as a percentage of need must be self-generated on-site,” Agate said. “Our goal is 30 percent. We want to show real scalability of our sustainable solutions. Can we help PECO curtail their load during peak times? Can we create capacity for on-site generation and isolate it from the larger grid? These are questions we are both discussing. The work through the GridSTAR Center will help us get there.”

Opening its doors in late 2013, GridSTAR is demonstrating the clean-energy generation and distribution possibilities. Conceived and run by the Architectural Engineering Department at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU), the center currently operates under a three-year, $5 million award from the U.S Department of Energy (DOE) and matching grants. It is expected to be self-sustaining by 2016.

NECA and its Penn-Del-Jersey Chapter, IBEW Local No. 98, and the Electrical Training ALLIANCE are among GridSTAR’s 23 development partners (see “A Power Couple,” Electrical Contractor, October 2014).

At an open house, PSU’s David Riley, principal investigator and director of the center, said, “While there are many parts and pieces of the GridSTAR Center, if I had to boil it down to one word, that word would be ‘learning:’ Learning through experience, learning from each other, learning from the co-creation of new systems and services that can be brought together to build a more sustainable and reliable energy grid.”

“The center serves as a window into the future of the electrical industry,” said Michael Callanan, former executive director, Electrical Training ALLIANCE.

H.B. Frazer Co. already embracing future

Working hand-in-hand with project engineers, H.B. Frazer Co., King of Prussia, Penn., helped bring the pieces of GridSTAR together and get the center up and running. The company won the bid project, and the scope has since grown into ongoing and expanded work.

“Certainly, our background with a handful of solar-power installations and LEED projects helped us win this work,” said Franklin P. Holleran, president of H.B. Frazer. “I think what also tipped the scale was having a workforce that includes a lot of younger, talented guys enthusiastic about leading-edge technology.”

The GridSTAR Center occupies several buildings, and H.B. Frazer’s work touches them all. Michael Connelly, project manager and superintendent, viewed the project as a design/build that was collaborative and exceptionally creative.

“We were given a blank piece of paper in how to design the electrical and worked hand-in-hand with PSU and site engineers,” Connelly said. “What was being attempted was new to everybody on the project team. Being electricians, we came from the mindset of live power coming from an outdoor utility box, delivered to a panel and distributed accordingly. Here the power was generated on-site with solar- and green-power storage. We were faced with wires, an inverter, battery packs for an energy-storage unit, all powered up through logic systems.”

For H.B. Frazer, much of the infrastructure for the GridSTAR Center was in place when the company entered the project. A seven-piece, modularly assembled research house was prewired. H.B. Frazer installed the house’s Lutron controls for lighting, automated shading, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC); it also installed LED lighting throughout. However, H.B. Frazer had to change the use of solar as the primary electric-power source with grid backup.

“The original inverter specified wasn’t big enough to handle what the planners wanted to do,” Connelly said. “We advised a better sized inverter. Today, the house is net-zero and at times achieving net gain. This was just one example of GridSTAR constantly evolving and becoming increasingly ambitious. You had to keep up, adapt and advise.”

The house has a photothermal-absorption system for water heating and load-management-capable appliances. A goal is to show the house’s responsiveness to wholesale electric price signals.

Beyond a house

The center is more than a smart-grid-demo home. Outer buildings include a demonstration and training center for solar power design and installation; a 150-kilowatt-hour, grid interactive, solar-energy storage system that will also be used for demand reduction and frequency response regulation with utility power providers; and both Level 2 and rapid direct current electric vehicle (EV) charging stations using solar canopies. Each EV is expected to make real-time decisions regarding buying and selling electricity into the grid. H.B. Frazer put the electric in place for the microgrid and EV charging stations.

“The raw power came from the solar grids, then the inverters, then the power-storage battery cabinets, then the distribution panels, which feed the lights, HVAC and other components,” Connelly said. “Much of our work centered on dealing with the excess energy being generated and a pathway to utilize it.”

Confronting a complex power configuration, H.B. Frazer connected several buildings so process loads can be studied for building-to-grid (B2G) integration, demand management (peak-clipping) and response (load shedding) through interaction with the building energy-management systems and controls. The configuration was designed to respond to real-time utility price and event signals. H.B. Frazer also wired switched (controlled) feeders to allow for easy and uninterruptible power reconfiguration aiding teaching and research and rapid remote response in the case of outages. Smart meters, power quality meters and remote displays to monitor conditions and archive data were also part of the installation.

“Energy storage was something new for us, much less clean-energy storage,” Holleran said. “We were learning new ways to apply new technologies and pieces of equipment that aren’t standard in our industry. It was important for us to remember everything still came down to making your connections and finding your power.”

“We discovered on this project that the cost of solar components, effectiveness of the solar cells, and ease of installation has dramatically improved,” Connelly said. “The ease of photovoltaic [PV] has really evolved in connectors, cabling, inverters connection, weight, size of equipment. Though situation-dependent, payback could be as short three years. Through lessons learned, this seven-month project could be reduced to four in the future.”

Apprentices and journeymen use the microgrid electric room as part of a live classroom. They can examine the microgrid configuration and green-energy storage; discharge a PV array; see panel installation and the relationship and wiring of the inverter; and discover how solar power goes to the distribution panel.

“It’s one thing to look at a drawing, but it’s another when you see the physical installation in action,” Holleran said. “The center allows contractors to look under the hood.”

Agate said that, when the developers planned the infrastructure for the Navy Yard, they chose to use proven-ready progressive technology. That led them to the kind of ECs they needed, including H.B. Frazer.

“We are matching existing technologies that can integrate,” Agate said. “We want ECs that can help us figure this out. The EC who’s the total package is the one capable of powering a solar array, then integrating it with energy storage and figuring out how to put that power safely and reliably on a grid.”

For the crew at H.B. Frazer, Connelly summed it up best: “We all grew through this project.”