100-Megawatt Armonia Microgrid Project Sets Palau On Course to Meet 45%-by-2025 Renewable Energy Goal Five Years Ahead of Schedule

ENGIE eps is building what’s billed as the world’s largest, solar power-energy storage microgrid for the government of Palau. With 100 MW of power generation and distribution capacity, the Armonia microgrid will enable Palau to meet its 45%-by-2025 renewable energy goal five years ahead of schedule, as well as offer electricity at the lowest rates in Palau’s history, according to the project partners.

Comprising 35 MW of dispatchable, solar power generation and 45 MWh of lithium-ion battery energy storage capacity, Armonia will be coupled with current diesel generation “to transform the Palau grid into a smart, integrated system with an overall installed power of over 100 MW, representing the largest microgrid in the world and a global reference for the state-of-the-art technology,” according to ENGIE eps. It’s all part of ENGIE eps’ worldwide Access to Energy[1] strategy. The renewable energy produced by Armonia’s solar PV is expected to meet more than 45% of Palau’s total demand for electricity.

Palau’s 100-Megawatt Armonia Microgrid Project Built by ENGIE eps

Palau’s 100-Megawatt Armonia Microgrid Project Built by ENGIE eps

“The project will deliver the lowest possible tariff ever registered in islands, well below the current generation cost based entirely on polluting diesel, while upgrading the current grid with energy storage to secure reliability and resilience,” ENGIE eps CEO Carlalberto Guglielminotti told Solar Magazine. “This has been, particularly from the economics perspective, an unprecedented low tariff for ENGIE eps and in the worldwide market, enabled by our bold Access to Energy strategy, the strong support of the Palau government and the visionary role of broad-based responsibility to Palau’s citizens displayed by the National Congress.”

A fast-growing market leader

Faced with rising sea levels, saltwater intrusion of freshwater reservoirs and other ripple effects of a warming climate, Pacific island nations and territories have emerged at the forefront of the global effort to stem the rising tide of greenhouse gas emissions, mean global temperatures and the myriad, profound effects of rapid climate warming. Having signed on the UN Paris Climate Change Agreement, the government of Palau enacted its 45%-by-2025 renewable energy[2] target, along with a goal of reducing energy-sector emissions 22% below 2005 levels, in August 2017.

“In the midst of the global energy transition, it is imperative that we address climate mitigation and climate adaption – at the same time.” – Palau President Tommy Remengesau[3] Click To Tweet[4]

“In the midst of the global energy transition, it is imperative that we address climate mitigation and climate adaption – at the same time,” Palau President Tommy Remengesau[5] stated.

As we reduce our carbon footprint, so too should we reduce the vulnerabilities of our energy infrastructure in the face of rising seas and natural disasters. As we generate cleaner energy, it must also be reliable, accessible, and economical for those citizens of the world who live on the front-lines of climate change. Our partnership with ENGIE has accelerated Palau’s transition toward a renewable and resilient future.

A 30-year power purchase agreement (PPA) signed by the Government of Palau, with the Palau Public Utilities Corp. as off-taker, and ENGIE eps sets the terms and conditions of the ambitious, Pacific island-wide Armonia project. Estimated value of the project totals US$70 million to US$80 million and ENGIE eps expects to bring Armonia online before the end of 2019, CEO Carlalberto Guglielminotti told Solar Magazine.

Ten years of research and development went into EPS’ (Electro Power Systems) off-grid, solar-storage technology and systems platform before executives officially launched the company’s new business strategy and long-term plan in May of 2014, Guglielminotti recounted. The company’s stock was listed and open to trade in April the following year and the company was busy carrying out projects in various countries.

The largest independent power producer in the world, French multinational ENGIE acquired a controlling equity stake in EPS earlier this year. The acquisition closed[6] in March. By the end of 2017, ENGIE eps had grown to be one of the largest installers of off-grid, solar-storage and other types of hybrid microgrids in the world, having installed or contracted to install systems with a total power capacity of more than 80 MW, according to the CEO. At the time, ENGIE eps microgrids were supplying clean, emissions-free electricity to more than 165,000 people in Africa and Asia.

By the time ENGIE announced its acquisition plan, EPS had deployed microgrids in the tens of megawatts in Africa and the Maldives, a 12-MW system in Australia and a 20-MW energy storage system in Spain. Billed as the largest microgrid of its kind in the world, “Armonia isn’t all that different in terms of order of magnitude, but it is much larger in scale,” Guglielminotti said.

ENGIE eps CEO Carlalberto Guglielminotti

ENGIE eps CEO Carlalberto Guglielminotti

“Lots of people are claiming lots of things when it comes to solar-storage and microgrids, but ask them how many people they are supplying power to. By the end of next year, ENGIE eps will commission systems powering the work and lives of approximately 500,000 people,” Guglielminotti said in an interview.

The microgrids ENGIE eps has built are being used for a variety of purposes:

  • A 5.9 MW, grid-forming Hybrid Power Plant ENGIE eps built for NECSOM, the National Electric Corporation of Somalia combines 1 MW-peak of solar PV, 750 kW of wind and 3.2 megavolt-amps (MVA), or 3.2 MW, of distributed generation and 1 MW/1.8 MWh of battery energy storage capacity with a 1 MW power conversion system equipped with full virtual inertia DROOP control technology. Serving a 3.5 MW load, more than 25 percent of local power consumption in the northeastern town of Garowe, the microgrid is expected to displace diesel-fired power generation by more than 2,000 liters per day and reduce customers’ electricity bills an average 17 percent.
  • Two microgrids ENGIE eps built for the government of the Comoros off the coast of Tanzania have a combined solar PV power generation capacity of 10 MW. They’re coupled with a series of battery energy storage systems distributed across the island and supply clean, emissions-free electricity for some 400,000 inhabitants on Anjouan and Mohéli, the two volcanic islands adjacent to the main island of Grande Comore.
  • A 12 MW solar-storage-based Hybrid Power Plant ENGIE eps built for Toshiba is powering a mining site in South Australia. Comprising 3 MW-peak of solar PV, 2 MWp of wind power generation and a 1 MW/0.5MWh Li-ion titanate-based battery energy storage system, the microgrid displaces the mining facility’s use of diesel fuel for power generation. The facility includes a small town of underground residences, with the solar-storage microgrid expected to provide as much as 70 percent of the facility’s total power needs over its projected, 20-year life.
  • With 20 MW of solar and 12.2 MWh of battery storage capacity, the turnkey microgrid ENGIE eps built for Italy’s ENEL and Spain’s Endesa, the end user, stores and dispatches power generated by Endesa’s coal-fired, Carboneras thermoelectric power plant in Almeria, on Spain’s southeastern, Mediterranean coast in order to enhance the stability of the utility grid. Incorporating 24 inverters, eight power control systems (PCS) and eight lithium-ion battery storage modules housed in 16 containers, the utility-scale BESS is said to be the largest in Spain.

A full slate of distributed and off-grid renewable and hybrid power solutions

ENGIE eps prides itself on the power and energy technology it has developed in-house. The company sources solar PV and battery energy storage cells from third parties, but all the other hardware and software used in its projects, including containerization, are designed and manufactured in-house, either by eps or by another ENGIE business group or operating unit.

Adopting and integrating the latest power electronics, digital information and artificial intelligence tools and technology with renewable power and energy storage systems has been a driving force fueling development and growth of distributed renewable energy worldwide, a trend that ENGIE eps is capitalizing on. That said, software accounts for perhaps no more than 20 percent of the complexity of managing and stabilizing distributed and off-grid power systems, as compared to power electronics, power conversion and power control and management hardware, according to Guglielminotti.

“We offer a full slate of technology and complete, turnkey solutions that includes fully integrated power control and electronics, power conversion and battery systems management, inverters for both solar PV and energy storage along with dispatching algorithms and SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) platforms,” Guglielminotti told Solar Magazine. “We offer full, completely vertically integrated solutions that enable anyone to manage a grid of whatever scope and scale – from small, localized systems up through to national grids.”

Being part of ENGIE has raised eps’ systems design, engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) and its project development capabilities to a new, much higher level. ENGIE eps works very closely with ENGIE Solar, Guglielminotti explained, particularly when developing very large projects such as Palau’s Armonia microgrid.

Aerial View of Palau

Aerial view of Palau. | Credit: The Island Resilience Partnership

“ENGIE is the largest independent power producer in the world, having installed more than 110 gigawatts (GW) of power generation capacity worldwide,” Guglielminotti pointed out. “The acquisition is working out very well for both companies, and created a real driving force of the energy transition towards a massive access to energy strategy,” he added.

Guglielminotti emphasized that ENGIE eps seeks out, develops and participates in projects based solely on their economics and technical characteristics, the focus being on emerging markets in Africa, Asia and islands worldwide, in that order.

“We provide clean, hybrid and renewable, off-grid and grid-connected energy systems with dramatically lower costs and those that rely on diesel generation…More than one-third of the global population – slightly more than 2 billion people – lack energy access or relay on diesel generation today. And I mean for primary, not back-up, 24×7 power generation. That’s a market of some 600 GW, with an installed fleet of diesel generation and an estimated market value for solar-storage microgrids of approximately US$22 billion,” Guglielminotti said.

“Every project we get involved in is based on a strictly commercial basis – no government or tariff subsidies, incentives or other support… A renewable or hybrid power plant or microgrid has to be cost-competitive in terms of power generation in order to displace diesel power generation. We are able to produce clean, emissions-free power and energy 24×7 competitively with solar PV and battery energy storage, and we’re looking to scale up aggressively.”

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