Frequently Asked Questions
- Energy as a Service
- Inflation Reduction Act
- Energy Transition
- Microgrid Technologies
Energy as a Service
What is Energy as a Service?
Energy as a Service (EaaS) is a business model that allows customers to pay for an energy service without having to make upfront capital investments. Unison Energy typically works with our clients under an EaaS model, as we design, build, own, operate and maintain our microgrids. We work with our clients under an energy services agreement to sell energy (electricity, therms) to the client. Learn more
How does Unison make its money?
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.
We prefer to own capital equipment; can Unison sell its systems?
Yes. If we enter into a sales agreement, we will require a long-term services agreement to ensure that our systems are properly maintained and kept running at maximum efficiency.
What is the term of the ESA?
Unison Energy’s energy services agreement (ESA) is typically 20 years. It can be shorter or longer, but customer savings are term dependent – the longer the term, the greater the savings.
What happens at the end of the ESA term?
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.
What is payback?
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, on-site installation costs, natural gas, and electric utility rates, and internal or external operations and maintenance costs.
Who pays for operations & maintenance? What does that include?
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. Learn more
What about emissions?
Because Unison Energy owns our energy systems, CHP emissions are usually considered separate from customer facility emissions. Unison handles all emissions applications, compliance testing, and reporting.
Inflation Reduction Act
What is the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)?
The Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law August 16, 2022, and contains $369 billion in funding designed to lower greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030, compared to 2005. The bill offers 30+% tax incentives for microgrids, cogeneration, wind, and solar (all technologies are considered equally beneficial), as well as EV charging, alternative green fuels, and carbon capture and sequestration technologies. Unison Energy can help companies take full advantage of ITCs contained in IRA legislation. Learn more
What is the IRA Direct Pay Option for Tax-Exempt Organizations?
A significant change to the ITC is that projects for non-tax-paying entities will qualify for a “direct pay” option, which will function more like an upfront grant. This significant change dramatically reduces the operating cost of high-efficiency, low-carbon CHP systems for a range of facilities owned and operated by non-profit organizations and state and local government entities. Alternatively, the tax credit can be sold to a third-party entity.
What is an Energy Community, as defined by the Inflation Reduction Act?
The IRA sets out guidelines that define three types of areas qualified to receive an additional 10% tax bonus; if a facility is in more than one of these areas the bonus only applies once:
- Coal Communities
- Employment & Tax Revenue Qualified Areas
What is the net impact of a microgrid on carbon footprint?
Carbon footprint reduction is contingent upon technologies used and customer priories. 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). A natural gas-based cogeneration microgrid can reduce carbon emissions by 30-40%; adding renewables like solar power can further reduce carbon emissions 40 to 60%. As renewable gas from biofuels and even hydrogen become more readily available through existing gas pipelines, facilities can reach carbon neutral. Learn more
Can your microgrids run on hydrogen or RNG?
Yes. Unison Energy’s CHP engines are ready for both biogas and hydrogen as they become more readily available and economically feasible. Learn more
How does on-site power reduce Scope emissions?
On-site microgrids most directly impact Scope 1 and 2 emissions. Industrial facilities with large thermal loads can dramatically reduce their Scope 1 emissions with a microgrid that utilizes cogeneration: by capturing waste heat, a facility can reduce its boiler usage, seeing reductions of 30-40% or as high as 100% depending on its thermal load.
Electricity is treated as a Scope 2 emission. Because Unison Energy works with our clients under an Energy as a Service model (we own and operate the system, selling electricity), we are a third party similar to a utility. Learn more
What technologies do you use?
Unison Energy is technology “agnostic” and we use the best technology for our client’s facility needs and their desired energy outcome; we customize our microgrids using a mix of generation technologies, including solar, battery energy storage, and cogeneration systems.
For smaller cogeneration-based microgrids, 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 and thermal energy efficiencies of 60-85%. As a comparison, the average utility efficiency in the markets we serve is 35%. For our larger systems, we have partnerships with Solar Turbines, Siemens, and GE. For our team it really comes down to what engine or turbine provides the best economic value for the application. System efficiency = customer savings. Learn more
How do microgrids support thermal loads?
Our microgrids typically incorporate combined heat and power technology (CHP or cogeneration), which creates heat as a byproduct of the power generation process. The heat can then be easily integrated into a facility’s existing thermal systems to support the site’s heat, steam, and hot and chilled water loads. Learn more
Do your systems just cover facility base load?
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.
Do your microgrids support EV Charging?
Yes. The switch to EVs includes high electric loads, reliability considerations, and related costs (including potential costly utility service upgrades to service the charge loads). Our onsite microgrids provide reliable, cost-effective power to support a seamless transition to EVs.
In addition to the the energy infrastructure, the cost of the EV Charging units can also be incorporated into the Energy Services Agreement. Learn more
How much space is required for a microgrid and related equipment?
Cogeneration: Unison Energy’s CHP 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 is 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.
Solar / Battery Storage (BEES): Solar requires about 8.1 acres or 352K square feet per MW of capacity, with unobstructed sunshine throughout the day. Adding battery storage for 24/7 power support requires even more space.
What if space is a concern?
If space is tight at a facility, Unison strongly suggests that a CHP economic analysis is done to determine projected savings. With that, our customers can do an internal cost/benefit analysis, considering 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.
Who pays for the natural gas to run the system?
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.
What if natural gas prices / commodity costs go up?
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. Learn more
What about utility standby and demand charges?
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-microgrid” utility charges, including standby charges, demand charges, departing load charges, etc., are factored into the project’s economic analysis and ESA rates.
How are my transmission and distribution costs impacted by a microgrid?
Energy from the utility is sold as a bundled cost of the commodity (electricity) and transmission and distribution (“T&D” includes the wires, poles, substations, and pipes). On-site 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 most of our customer’s electricity spend ensures that the savings from on-site generation increase over the term of the ESA.
How do our microgrids provide resilient power?
Microgrids using CHP technology use natural gas, RNG or hydrogen to generate electricity. Our microgrids typically run in parallel with the utility, but when a utility outage occurs, the microgrid enters “island mode” and runs independently of the grid, insulating a facility from extended outages. Learn more
Can microgrids operate during extreme temperature fluctuations?
Yes. Our cogeneration-based microgrids are designed to withstand temperature extremes, so weather is not a factor. Because our systems run on natural gas (or RNG), access to fuel is not an issue during extreme weather events.
Can microgrids protect a facility from power surges and power quality issues during grid outages?
Yes. During utility outages, power surges can cause costly damage to facility equipment; because our microgrids operate in island mode, power surges are avoided. Facilities that regularly experience power quality issues from the grid can often improve harmonics, grid stiffness, and voltage regulations with microgrids that include synchronous generation equipment; Unison Energy’s CHP-based microgrids use reciprocating engines or gas turbines. Learn more
How does a CHP-based microgrid differ from backup generation?
Diesel backup generation can offer quick-starting power for life safety equipment like fire alarms or exit lighting, and can be sized to cover additional loads during outages. Diesel generators require significant upfront capital and ongoing fuel & maintenance costs.
Cogeneration-based microgrids can support critical or full loads for even lengthy outages with no upfront capital or mainenance, when operating under an Energy as a Service model. Microgrids offer facilities a more comprehensive resiliency strategy that includes cost savings, lower emissions, and other key benefits.