Microgrids generally operate in parallel with the local electric utility and can include and manage multiple Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) including, solar, storage, CHP or cogeneration, fuel cells, wind, etc. If more than one DER is operating on the microgrid, the microgrid controller (MC) will optimize dispatch of each DER resource for operational resiliency, time-of-day energy pricing and peak shaving, power quality optimization. During a utility outage, the microgrid can i) isolate itself from the utility grid, ii) produce its own power to meet on-site demand, iii) maintain normal site operations. When stable utility power returns, the microgrid can re-connect to the local utility. Unison Energy is focused on microgrids that use cogeneration as its baseload DER with other resources included to maximize customer savings, resiliency and help them meet their sustainability goals.
Cogeneration’s primary differentiator from traditional power generation technology is its utilization of the generation waste heat to provide heating or cooling. This increases the cogeneration system’s total efficiency upwards of 80% compared to 40% for an average utility power plant. Cogeneration is a very well-established and respected technology. The first commercial power plant, built by Thomas Edison in the late 1800’s, was a cogeneration system that powered the world’s first light bulbs and captured waste heat to produce steam and heat for local buildings and manufacturers. Cogeneration technology has greatly matured since Edison’s day to incorporate the latest technological advances in airplane turbines, automobile engines, building energy management software and the broader power industry.
Unison Energy’s microgrids provide three benefits. (1) Resiliency: our clients benefit from continuous power during utility outages so that they don’t have to shut down operations. (2) Savings: our microgrid solutions reduce our clients’ annual energy costs with no upfront capital expenses or maintenance costs whatsoever. (3) Sustainability: our microgrid solutions are cleaner, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, than utility power plants. This all comes with no capex or additional cost to our clients.
There is no capital expenditure required by our customers. Unison Energy builds, owns and operates microgrid systems under long-term energy services agreements (ESAs). Our customers pay only for what we are producing and providing: kWh and therms.
Cogeneration has been a significant part of onsite generation at industrial facilities and hospitals for decades due to its high efficiency. In recent years, the industry has been taking off as more and more clients are deciding to use third parties to own and operate the cogeneration system under an Energy Services Agreement (ESA) instead of the traditional model where facilities hire engineers, purchase equipment, manage construction, and operate the equipment. The ESA financing model has been in use in the solar industry since its inception and when applied to cogeneration, has opened up its benefits to facilities that don’t have the capital to invest or sufficient experienced operating staff to run a cogeneration system but that still want the benefits of energy resiliency, cost savings, and carbon reduction.
Currently, around 8% of the installed power generation capacity in the United States is cogeneration technology. Unison Energy uses reciprocating natural gas combustion engines or turbines, not fuel cells, for its cogeneration systems. Unison is technology agnostic but we find that fuel cells are too expensive, the total efficiency is too low, reliability is low, and during a utility outage they don’t restart independently. Therefore, we work with the more proven technologies at least until those issues can be overcome.
Unison Energy makes money only when our system is providing electricity and thermal (hot water, steam, chilling) to a customer facility. This blended cost of the electricity and thermal is typically lower than the utility. There are no other expenses for our client, so Unison only makes money when our microgrid system is providing electricity and thermal power. Unison Energy’s and our clients’ incentives are aligned.
All microgrid O&M costs are included in Unison Energy’s electricity and thermal rates stipulated in the Energy Services Agreement (ESA). This includes all minor and major maintenance, engine overhauls, consumables, service calls, and all other maintenance, including unplanned maintenance. The customer will never be charged for O&M. Furthermore, Unison only makes a return on its investment when our systems are operating, aligning our interests with our customer’s savings, resiliency and sustainability goals. To this end, we have invested heavily in our O&M capability and as a result our microgrid fleet has an excellent uptime record.
Utility standby and demand charges differ depending on the state and utility. Unison Energy maintains a sophisticated proprietary tariff database which includes 700+ tariffs, 120+ gas and electric utilities in 25 states; for each of our prospective energy projects Unison Energy performs an in-depth tariff analysis based on the microgrid to be deployed and different operating scenarios inclusive of time-of-day energy pricing, peak shaving and power quality optimization. All “post-microgird” utility charges, including standby charges, demand charges, departing load charges, etc. are factored into the project’s economic analysis and ESA rates.
If required, either the customer or Unison Energy can buy the gas. If Unison buys it, the cost is passed straight through to the customer; there is no markup.
Microgrids with a baseload provided by cogeneration typically generate consistent energy savings over time, regardless of gas market fluctuations. The reason for this is that the marginal cost of electric power on the grid is provided by natural gas powered “peaker plants” which can power up and down in response to electricity demand. Since on site cogeneration, fuel cells and utility scale peaker plants use natural gas as their energy source , the correlation between gas and electricity prices is very high, maintaining microgrid savings versus the utility.
Energy from the utility is sold as a bundled cost of commodity (electricity) and transmission and distribution (“T&D” - the wires, poles, substations and pipes). Onsite microgrids have no T&D costs while utility T&D costs, in the markets Unison Energy serves, typically increase on average 3 – 12% per year. Because Unison Energy’s microgrids cover 80 – 95% of a customer's on-site energy costs, the utility T&D cost avoidance on the majority of our customer's electricity spend ensures that the savings from on-site generation increase over the term of the ESA.
Unison Energy’s microgrid systems are containerized to minimize on-site installation costs and provide uniformity of design; all major equipment including engine/generator, thermal recovery and conversion, related pumps, controllers and switchgear and all ancillary equipment are placed inside a container that is roughly the size of an ISO shipping container. A 45’ x 10’ footprint is a conservative estimate for a single CHP solution;solar and storage solutions require more space. If space is tight at a facility, Unison strongly suggests that a CHP economic analysis is done so as to determine projected savings. With that, our customers can do an internal cost/benefit analysis, taking into account savings versus “making room” for the equipment, i.e. the higher the savings, the more on-site space that can be “found.” When considering kWh generation density per square feet, CHP is often more land / rooftop resource effective while also producing the energy redundancy that many C&I customers require of their on-site energy systems. While most cogeneration systems can be installed indoors, many municipalities, including the City of New York, have yet to permit storage systems for indoor locations because of the potential fire hazard.
Unison Energy is technology “agnostic” and will use the best technology for our client’s facility needs and their desired energy outcome. For cogeneration, we typically use MWM, MTU, Jenbacher and MAN engine packages from 2G-Energy which have high electrical efficiencies (37 – 45%) as well as best in class electric + thermal energy efficiencies of 60 – 85%. System efficiency = customer savings. As a comparison, the average utility efficiency in the markets we serve is 35%.
Unison Energy sizes our systems to maximize customer savings. This typically results in a system that covers 80-95% of our customer’s annual electrical load (kWh). Unison will often employ two or three energy systems operating in parallel for redundancy during maintenance events as well as for peak shaving to minimize time of day pricing; investment in system redundancy is a trade-off with customer savings and often depends on local utility tariffs and specifically demand charges. Unison can adjust our system sizing to meet customer-specific energy savings and resiliency needs.
Because Unison Energy owns our energy systems, CHP emissions are usually considered separate from customer facility emissions. Unison handles all emissions applications, testing and reporting.
Unison Energy only bills for the energy that is used by the customer ($/kWh and therms). The ESA stipulates an electric rate ($/kWh) and thermal rate for hot water, steam, and/or chilled water ($/therm) that typically increase at CPI over the term of the ESA.
Unison Energy’s energy services agreement (ESA) is typically 15 years. It can be shorter or longer, but customer savings is term dependent – the longer the term, the greater the savings.
Our customers have three options at the end of the ESA term (typically 15 years):
- Renew the ESA agreement;
- Unison Energy removes the system at our expense;
- The customer can buy our system at fair market value.
Because Unison Energy typically owns our energy systems, and our customer puts up no capital, the customer payback is in the form of energy savings and related resiliency benefits over the term of the ESA. That said, economic payback, if a customer was to own the energy system, can be 4-8 years depending on local tariffs, onsite installation costs, natural gas and electric utility rates, and internal or external Operations and Maintenance costs.
Natural gas cogeneration facilities can reduce carbon emissions by 30-40%; implementing multiple technologies in a microgrid including solar power can further reduce carbon emissions 40 to 60%. The exact amount will depend on the mix of power generation resources serving a utility or geography (e.g, coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, solar). In the future, renewable gas from biofuels and even hydrogen will be readily available through existing gas pipelines allowing facilities to be carbon neutral using their existing infrastructure. In the meantime, Unison Energy supports reforestation, a concept endorsed at the 2020 World Economic Forum, to remove the remaining carbon from the atmosphere to achieve carbon neutrality today.
Yes. If we enter into a sales agreement, we will require a long-term services agreement to ensures that our systems are properly maintained and kept running at maximum efficiency.