Behind the scenes at the Navy Yard, with its new corporate headquarters and restored 70-year-old buildings, another transformation is taking place that is largely invisible to the public, but that could have far-reaching implications.
Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., the agency redeveloping the Navy Yard, is installing a "smart-grid" system on the 1,200-acre campus in South Philadelphia. PIDC envisions constructing an interconnected network of renewable power sources and storage devices in a self-supporting "community" system.
Such localized "microgrids" can work in harmony with the traditional regional power grid to help stabilize operations - or disconnect from the grid and operate autonomously.
On Wednesday, PIDC is set to announce Landis & Gyr AG, the Swiss metering company owned by Toshiba Corp., as the winning bidder to install its advanced metering infrastructure system, including smart meters and an associated communications network.
Landis & Gyr was selected from nine bidders, said Will Agate, senior vice president, Navy Yard management and development. The price was not disclosed.
The company will deploy an off-the-shelf system that it markets under the Gridstream brand. The real innovations may come when the Navy Yard begins to integrate its customers into an assortment of local power sources, including some already in place - battery storage systems, solar panels, electric vehicle-charging stations, and gas-fueled turbines and fuel cells.
"We're really one of the forerunners in terms of deploying these various forms of distributed generation," Agate said.
Landis & Gyr typically works with utilities. It has supplied most of the smart meters Peco is installing with its 1.6 million customers, though software and the backbone of the Peco system were supplied by another smart-grid vendor.
By contrast, virtually the entire Navy Yard system will be Landis & Gyr, including the meter-data management software and associated cloud-based services.
The Navy Yard system, expected to be operational in three to six months, is much smaller than a typical utility. It has only 70 individual customers, but they are big ones, from the Navy to Urban Outfitters and Aker Philadelphia Shipyard.
Because the Navy Yard operates as a quasi-utility - it buys high-voltage electricity from Peco and distributes it to Navy Yard occupants on its own network - it is in a unique position to act as kind of a laboratory for new technology.
If successful, the Navy Yard could become a showcase for other industrial complexes and university campuses exploring microgrids as a means to achieve higher efficiency - and more resilience, said Prasanna Venkatesan, chief executive for Landis & Gyr's American operations.
"There is a new group of what I'd call excited customers in the ecosystem," said Venkatesan. "We're looking at universities and campuses across the country that have expressed interest in developing alternative technologies in an effort to go green, if I can use that word."
Another way microgrids can increase efficiency is by using local power sources, reducing energy losses in transmission and distribution systems.
In simple terms, a smart grid employs two-way wireless communications between smart meters and a central control system, which has the ability to manage the system's load.
The Navy Yard, which has a collective demand of about 28 megawatts, can fashion its own tariff system to reward customers for conserving power or for shifting load. The microgrid can signal hourly prices from the regional grid operator, PJM Interconnection Inc., allowing customers to tap directly into PJM's markets.
"In order to deploy the distributed generation techniques within the community we call the Navy Yard, you need to have smart infrastructure that knows where the demands are and where the supply is, and whether the conditions on a given day are extreme," said Agate.
"All that's shared in the smart microgrid so you can instantaneously make decisions on what's the best way to deploy your resources."
Agate said the smart-grid investment also will help PIDC achieve its economic-development mission.
"It actually creates a form of economic development, because we're driving down our customers' costs," he said.