"We're making sure that growers are not exposed to spikes in energy costs by monitoring utility supply rates and determining times when it is cheaper to consume power from the local utility or to use the Microgrids natural gas or battery power, for example, on a given day," says Spencer Bernstein, Director of Client Success at Scale Microgrids.
Based in New Jersey, Scale Microgrids (Scale) designs, builds, finances, and operates advanced distributed energy assets to improve clients' resilience to the shifting energy markets and limit system downtime due to power shortages or outages. According to the company's website, its optimized solar, battery, and dispatchable generation microgrids save users approximately 10-15% in their annual energy expenditures.
Spencer Bernstein pictured in New York
In the vertical farming space, Scale has worked with Bowery and Fifth Season. As Spencer explains, microgrid solutions are a no-brainer for vertical farming as it protects farms against power outages, which can otherwise quickly cause crop loss through missed irrigation events and the inability to control the environment in the production area. Microgrids also give farms the ability to switch between power sources based on the current price of local or regional utilities. For new projects with uncertain access to utilities, microgrids also help farms get the energy they need quickly.
"In the Northeast during a hot summer, electricity prices can be really volatile and expose farms to high operational costs as they cannot simply reduce their operations without losing their crop," says Spencer.
The scale microgrid device is seen outside Bowery's facility
With Scale's advanced monitoring system, vertical farms can also track their energy use per crop or growth cycle and test various optimization strategies to get the highest yield at the lowest electricity cost.
"It's much more than just providing a backup power solution and occasional maintenance. We are constantly working with the customer to see where we can optimize throughout the day to lower costs," explains Spencer. "We also see when carbon emissions from the utility grid are highest and can switch power supply sources to shrink the farm's carbon footprint during those times."
Further, Scale provides monthly performance reports to show clients how their microgrid is performing, how much electricity is generated and used from each source, and what the savings are.
Solar panels on the roof
Interactive owner of the microgrid, limiting risk to clients
As Spencer explains, few customers purchase microgrid assets directly from Scale. Instead, the company is vertically integrated and handles the financing, development, ownership, and operation of the microgrid. This means that while the client, be it a vertical farm or otherwise, pays to use the microgrid, the system is owned and operated by the provider itself. When issues arise, the company can remotely diagnose and fix problems with the microgrid. Scale also conducts routine preventative maintenance. Contracts usually last 10-20 years, with an annual fee for microgrid use or a monthly rate based on usage.
"Clients are focusing on their operations and usually don't want to worry about how to power the facility, especially since the utility itself and its rate vary greatly between providers and regions. We handle all of that so that they can just focus on their operations," Spencer explains.
Scale Microgrids works predominantly in the US and is branching into the vertical farming space, as evidenced by its collaborations with Bowery and Fifth Season. The company does not yet work with greenhouses but is open to greenhouse energy projects as well.