Burns Engineering Inc.: Smart Micro-grid Energy Master Plan for the Philadelphia Navy Yard

Utility upgrade for utilities/public works.

By Burns Engineering Inc. August 14, 2014

Engineering firm: Burns Engineering Inc.
2014 MEP Giants rank: 52
Project: Smart Micro-grid Energy Master Plan for the Philadelphia Navy Yard
Address: Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.
Building type: Utilities/public works/transportation, Other
Project type: Other
Engineering services: Automation/controls, electrical/power, HVAC/mechanical, lighting, and energy/sustainability
Project timeline: 12/5/2011 to 2/28/2013
MEP/FP budget: $650,000


The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) is the owner and economic developer of the historic, 1,200-acre Philadelphia Navy Yard (PNY). With a bold growth goal to double building square footage over the next 10 years, PIDC faced the challenge of accommodating a 200% growth in energy demand from 26 MW to more than 70 MW while maintaining the campus’ status as a national center for energy excellence. The PNY electrical grid is already considered one of the largest nonmunicipal unregulated grids in the nation. A “business as usual” approach to planning and managing this growth would require massive capital expenditures, result in costly system inefficiencies, and require the PIDC to charge noncompetitive electric rates to tenants. Instead, PIDC challenged Burns with a breakthrough concept to repurpose the “capital liability” of improving the antiquated energy infrastructure into a “capital asset” with return on investment, providing the campus with competitive differentiation to attract and retain tenants. PIDC knew it needed an energy master plan (EMP) to achieve this. PIDC hired Burns Engineering to: study and plan a Smart Microgrid for the campus with a seven-firm team; act as client and stakeholder liaison for over 60 organizations; and provide planning, energy consulting, and engineering. The project complexity of this project was due to the necessity to align many factors with competing demands. Examples include: increase capacity yet minimize financial outlay; increase capacity but reduce carbon footprint; lower consumption yet expand facilities; self-generate while still on the grid; remain a utility customer while becoming a utility provider; and modernize expensive infrastructure while lowering costs to tenants. Gathering, processing, and coordinating the input and needs of roughly 60 stakeholders, some of which have polar opposite needs, required an engaging, complex, and far-reaching stakeholder process including: utilities, owners, tenants, real estate developers, policy agencies, education and research institutions, and regulatory agencies. Rethinking the traditional utility business model, considering distributed energy resources and microgrids, leverages third-party capital and energy asset ownership; enables shared community generation; provides aggressive incentives to encourage efficiency and demand management; and creatively funds efficiency projects through such mechanisms as on-bill financing and energy services agreements. Establishing the best business strategy in an environment of uncertainty and rapid change requires complex and extensive modeling to assess multiple scenarios. The EMP analyzed thousands of data points and variables related to fuel, peak loads, distribution grid parameters, technology, building energy usage, weather, energy markets, demand growth rates, and the cost of capital. The key model outputs and decision metrics centered on scenario ROIs, total capital outlays, leveraged equity, and risk. Optimizing multiple existing as well as emergent energy, communication, and control technologies was a complex yet essential challenge of the EMP. Technologies fundamental to the plan include distributed energy resources (CHP cogen, solar PV, and energy storage), energy-efficient systems, smart meters, and a communication backbone to support and manage metering, grid operations, and generation assets.


Working with more than 60 stakeholder groups, including utilities, tenants, policy entities, university research institutions, developers, and owners, Burns and PIDC established the following goals of the EMP: 1) provide a competitively priced and more sustainable energy supply to all customers, 2) foster the growth of the “Smart Energy Campus,” 3) attract a continuing diverse base of businesses to the Navy Yard, 4) attract energy innovation and testing and serve in part as a “living lab,” and 5) attract third-party capital and employ and maintain sustainable, self-funding business models. To help PIDC achieve these goals, Burns identified and assessed numerous viable options, and then applied rigorous analysis on hundreds of technical, financial, operational, and risk factors to select the best option. The resulting EMP is a comprehensive energy, infrastructure, technology, and business plan that will guide the PIDC in the ownership, management, and expansion of its unregulated grid into a state-of-the-art advanced microgrid consisting of a diverse array of distributed energy resources. The innovative microgrid uses electric grid market signals, algorithms, and machine-to-machine communication systems to self-adjust energy systems, regulate building loads, and dispatch energy generation and storage systems to optimize costs, reliability, and power quality. The microgrid provides a resilient platform for distributed energy resources and enables multidirectional power flows, building-to-grid and vehicle-to-grid optimization, volt-var management, frequency regulation, increased power quality, and real-time situational and market awareness. The EMP key components include:

  • Advanced metering infrastructure — smart meters, meter data management, and network communications including LAN, WAN, and communications backbone       
  • Network operating center — command, control, and situational awareness of all microgrid assets including generation, distribution substations and feeders, energy storage, and system loads
  • Demand response programs — active load management systems consisting of integrated communications and control technology, and weather information able to take grid operating and market conditions to control peak demand by more than 13 MW
  • Distribution automation — incorporated into smart substations, includes real-time switching of loads from overloaded feeders and distribution assets to other systems and equipment
  • Grid expansion — rerouted feeders and new smart substations
  • Energy-efficiency programs — to reduce electricity usage 20% and greenhouse gas density by 13%
  • Self-generation: 3.2 MW of combined heat and power; 1 MW of solar PV and energy storage; 0.8 MW of fuel cells
  • New utility business models — reduce investment required by PIDC to $46 million, instead of the originally estimated $95 million. By implementing the EMP, PIDC is pursuing an actionable strategy to achieve its energy, economic, and environmental goals, and in so doing, maintain the nationally unique “Smart Energy Campus” brand. The collateral benefit is that it brings Philadelphia closer to its goal of becoming America’s greenest city. The EMP will also serve as a guide to both utilities and industries throughout the U.S. that are facing capacity limits, aged infrastructure, demand growth, and disruptive technologies.

Download a presentation about this project here.