Power Move

How on-site energy solutions can help save the grid

Across the U.S., energy users of all sizes are taking control of their power supply and relieving stress from the grid. That’s the idea behind distributed energy. Atlantic Re:think and Siemens partnered to explore this burgeoning energy revolution in 360º video.

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Thousand Oaks, California

Do you ever stop to think about what happens after you flush a toilet? Many municipalities spend as much as 35 percent of their budgets on the energy needed to run water and wastewater plants. Not the city of Thousand Oaks, though: They transformed their biggest energy user into an energy generator.

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Arizona Public Service

Many residents of Arizona want to soak up the power of the sun. Arizona’s largest electric company, Arizona Public Service, wants to give its customers this option, but doing so can present technical challenges. Through a pilot program, APS is now testing a solution to further improve reliability using residential solar and battery storage.

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Lake Worth, Florida

In the midst of an economic comeback, the city of Lake Worth, Florida, built a renewable energy station on top of what used to be a landfill. This 2-megawatt solar farm is one step in a much larger plan to revitalize the area, both aesthetically and economically.

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The traditional power grid is under tremendous pressure. In many places, infrastructure needs to be upgraded. Extreme weather and cybersecurity are constant concerns. These challenges threaten entire communities and businesses, from hospital networks to manufacturing plants and university systems. Technology now offers more solutions than early energy pioneers could’ve fathomed as they designed the central grid some 150 years ago. There are now more ways to support and complement the grid than ever before. It’s time to tap into these innovations.


Whether the challenge is energy generation, distribution, storage, or management, all can be addressed through a single solution: on-site energy control. Often called distributed energy, this increases reliability while reducing costs and environmental impact. The Siemens portfolio of on-site energy solutions offers users greater control over their energy supply, where it comes from, how sustainable it is, how they use it, and how much they pay for it. It allows them to restore customer and grid power during a complete blackout, and it plays an integral role in the grid’s digital transformation. The technologies are being implemented in new as well as legacy systems, as Siemens helps decision makers across the country to navigate the unique challenges they face. It’s time to take advantage of this technology and overhaul the system; to develop a more economically and environmentally resilient and sustainable approach to how we power our lives.

Local Challenges, Siemens Solutions

How to watch 360 video +

To watch 360° videos, you need the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, Opera, or Edge (360° video is not supported in IE).

On Desktop
Using the 360 functionality is easy: Just move your cursor onto any spot on the video, click your mouse, and drag your cursor around. The video will move with your cursor.

On Mobile
Open the link in the YouTube app. Hit play. Then, as the video plays, move your phone around. You can turn around in a full 360-degree circle, and you’ll find something new everywhere you look.

Watch in HD
360-degree video looks best in HD. Keep in mind that 360° videos are larger than normal video files and may take longer to load.

Thousand Oaks, California

The city of Thousand Oaks transformed one of its largest energy users into an energy generator.

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Every city and town in the U.S. must treat its wastewater. That’s the stuff that gets flushed down a toilet and the chemical-laden excess generated by manufacturing, among other things. It has to be treated to remove chemicals and other organic compounds before it can be released into rivers and streams. That treatment process is expensive, both in dollars and energy used–so much so that many municipalities spend as much as 35 percent of their budgets on the energy needed to run water and wastewater plants–but not Thousand Oaks, California.

Through Siemens on-site power generation and management technology, the city transformed its wastewater treatment plant from an energy user to an energy generator. The plant is now generating all of the power that it needs to operate, and is even starting to generate a surplus. It’s a welcome change for a town situated in the heart of the gorgeous Conejo Valley, surrounded by hiking trails and precious environmentally-protected parkland. The city prioritizes the environment and asks residents to do the same–and now, through the Hill Canyon Treatment Plant, it’s leading the way.

Q&A with Chris Nagle,
North American Regional Director, Siemens

Q: Technically speaking, how is the energy produced in the co-generation plant?

A: Hill Canyon is taking the waste from the wastewater treatment process and putting it into an anaerobic digester, which is basically allowing it to sit, decompose, and produce methane. The methane gas from the digester is cleaned by BioSpark on site and then burned in the Siemens supplied internal combustion engine, producing the electricity and hear that the plant needs.

Q: What technology was needed to make that possible?

A: This engine is built specifically for this type of application. The fuel is a bit challenging, as there can be harmful contaminants that pass through the gas into the engine. We design the engine in a way that not only has a tolerance for some of these things that might make it into the gas stream, but also to run reliably, 24/7, almost every day of the year. So this engine is purpose-built for these types of applications to run a long time in very demanding and difficult environments.

Q: How important is that custom-designed engine, in terms of helping to meet energy goals?

A: Having an engine that's able to run continuously affords a wastewater treatment plant the ability to keep their utility costs low without having to purchase more expensive power from the utility. That entrepreneurial approach by Hill Canyon was a tremendous benefit to the ratepayers and the citizens of Thousand Oaks.

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Watch The Next 360 Video ❯

This content is made possible by our sponsor; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Atlantic's editorial staff. See our advertising guidelines to learn more.

How to watch 360 video +

To watch 360° videos, you need the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, Opera, or Edge (360° video is not supported in IE).

On Desktop
Using the 360 functionality is easy: Just move your cursor onto any spot on the video, click your mouse, and drag your cursor around. The video will move with your cursor.

On Mobile
Open the link in the YouTube app. Hit play. Then, as the video plays, move your phone around. You can turn around in a full 360-degree circle, and you’ll find something new everywhere you look.

Watch in HD
360-degree video looks best in HD. Keep in mind that 360° videos are larger than normal video files and may take longer to load.

Arizona Public Service

A public utility provider adds residential and large-scale renewable energy to the grid without sacrificing reliability.

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Arizona gets more than 300 days of sun each year. That makes it the sunniest state in the nation–and residents are eager to tap into this abundance. Arizona Public Service, Arizona's largest electric company, wants to give its 1.2 million customers the option to install solar panels and took on the challenge of how to give this flexibility while still maintaining 24/7 reliability for the grid. This posed several challenges. The first is storage: When individual customers install solar panels, the utility needs to determine how best to use excess solar being produced at times of the day when customer demand is low. Utility-scale energy storage technology is starting to become more economical, and APS has installed two battery storage systems to absorb excess energy and reserve it for times when demand is greatest. The second challenge is communication. In order to ensure reliability, APS needs to be able to see and control all power sources on its grid–including residential solar panels. Finally, there’s the cost: When customers install solar panels on their own, installation and upkeep can run in the thousands of dollars–a barrier to entry for many who wish to utilize solar energy.

In order to incorporate a large number of individual residential and grid-scale solar systems without sacrificing reliability, APS needed a robust operating system. The Siemens SICAM platform solved this issue. With SICAM in place, APS launched a pilot program allowing 1,600 of its residential customers to install APS-owned solar power systems. APS installed and maintains the panels, at no cost to the residents. In exchange for using their roofspace, each customer receives a $30 monthly credit on their electric bill for 20 years. SICAM monitors and controls all 1,600 of those residential sites on the same system as APS's 11 grid-scale solar plants. The system knows when an issue is brewing and helps APS avoid possible outages and surges before they can impact the grid. SICAM also communicates with the battery-storage stations. The APS Solar Partner program has proven so successful that APS is adding 3,200 rooftops to the system over the next three years.

Q&A with Farel Becker
Product Lifecycle Manager, SICAM, Siemens

Q: The SICAM software made the APS solar partner pilot possible. Can you explain SICAM?

A: SICAM is a software-based system that allows the customer to be able to connect to devices, such as smart inverters, using some form of communications. In this particular case at Arizona Public Service, it monitors and controls the smart inverters using a combination of cellular and an advanced meter infrastructure (AMI) communication system.

Q: Is this a common application of SICAM?

A: APS required a system that could interface with individual and groups of smart inverters in the research program, each with about 100 to 150 signals. No one had ever done anything like this in this kind of scale before. So there were challenges that came along with that, particularly on the communication side. The existing communications systems and protocols that were being used needed to be modified in order to be able to make that happen. So we learned a whole lot more, this being our first time, too.

Q: Beyond scaling the technology, were there other technical challenges to consider?

A: One of the big issues is always cybersecurity. So one of the nice things about the SICAM system is that because it’s part of a standard product, you’ve got all of the secure coding that’s done and all of the testing that’s done ahead of time.

Return To The Intro

Watch The Next 360 Video ❯

This content is made possible by our sponsor; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Atlantic's editorial staff. See our advertising guidelines to learn more.

How to watch 360 video +

To watch 360° videos, you need the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, Opera, or Edge (360° video is not supported in IE).

On Desktop
Using the 360 functionality is easy: Just move your cursor onto any spot on the video, click your mouse, and drag your cursor around. The video will move with your cursor.

On Mobile
Open the link in the YouTube app. Hit play. Then, as the video plays, move your phone around. You can turn around in a full 360-degree circle, and you’ll find something new everywhere you look.

Watch in HD
360-degree video looks best in HD. Keep in mind that 360° videos are larger than normal video files and may take longer to load.

Lake Worth, Florida

The city of Lake Worth is making an economic comeback by overhauling its independent electric utility at no cost to taxpayers.

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Lake Worth is in a unique situation: It has never been part of the central power grid. When the city was incorporated, the original landowners decided to create their own power supply. This meant that if a hurricane knocked out the central grid, Lake Worth could get itself back up and running without waiting for a regional supplier to fix outages. It meant that the city only had to produce and purchase what its 37,000 residents used. But over time, as the infrastructure aged and energy demands increased, the bills started to mount.

The load got to be too much for the city’s power station, and the costs of purchasing power off the central grid led to some of the highest utility rates in the southeast. Lake Worth couldn’t compete with neighboring cities. This plagued Lake Worth until about six years ago, when Mayor Pam Triolo was elected. Triolo made electricity her first priority–she wanted a completely new system, without having to sacrifice Lake Worth’s independence. There was no budget to pay for it, but she was determined.

Working with Siemens, the city entered into a $23 million performance contract that allowed it to replace the outdated infrastructure and install a state-of-the-art solar field, without spending taxpayer money. The updates include new air conditioning and heating systems in municipal buildings, over 4,000 new LED streetlights throughout the city, and more than 40,000 new automated electric and water meters. It’s all paid for in the savings and revenues it will generate. Siemens calculated predicted savings, and if the updated system does not deliver on the predictions, Siemens covers the difference; the city isn’t responsible if the technology doesn’t perform as promised.

Already, the solar field is producing two percent of the city’s energy needs. As they add more panels, it’ll eventually produce up to 10 percent of the city’s energy needs. That’s 10 percent less to be generated by the existing, aging power station or purchased from other power generators. The city has achieved its goal of rate parity with the central grid–but this is only the beginning of a long-term plan to rely on renewables, while maintaining a reliable, sustainable independent power grid.

Q&A with Hector Samario,
City Infrastructure Executive, Siemens

Q: What is the benefit of implementing a distributed energy system?

A: A distributed system provides greater resilience and, I think in many cities and counties, local governments are looking to implement or install more of a micro-grid or a micro-energy station that can support the bulk of the requirements.

Q: What happens when the performance contract ends?

A: After they're done paying for them in 15 years, these panels are going to last 25 to 35 years, and they'll continue to generate power. They'll continue to generate savings for the city, well beyond what the economics of the project required.

Q: Why were streetlights a priority in this performance contract?

A: What the city wanted was not only to replace a lot of the old inefficient streetlights and install lighting where there was some missing lighting due to some hurricanes and wear and tear, but they also wanted better security and safety for residents and businesses. They wanted to make sure that these new lights were environmentally sound. I don't mean just energy efficient. That was a given to have to save money, and the LED technologies do that, but they wanted to take it a step further. A lot of residents were involved with the International Dark Skies Association and wanted the lights to be compliant, meaning that they wanted to make sure there was no uplight, there was no backlight, and there was little to no glare. So that was a requirement they put on us.

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