CHAMPAIGN – Mike Royse of One Main Development plans to bring business and university representatives together Monday to discuss what kind of role a "microgrid" might play in Champaign-Urbana.
Microgrids are essentially localized power grids that can draw from local energy sources, such as solar or wind power facilities. Microgrids are usually connected with the main power grid but can operate autonomously.
Royse said a microgrid could help ensure that uninterrupted power is available to data centers and other high-performance computing facilities in town.
One Main Development has a particular interest in the concept, Royse said, because a prospective tenant for its M2 building in downtown Champaign "would require enhanced power and cooling needs."
Royse said he's not yet ready to identify the prospective tenant. But he said the microgrid concept holds advantages for many types of users.
Microgrids can be used for load sharing, for incorporating renewable energy sources and for making the grid more responsive to individual customers – particularly when needs differ from building to building, he said.
Ideally, microgrids make use of so-called smart-grid technologies, he said.
"They can understand when devices need to be running and can prioritize where any available power might go," Royse said. "They also can be used to level out the demand that's on the grid."
Royse said One Main Development hopes to explore the concept with several partners, including Busey Bank, the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, the University of Illinois, General Electric and Ameren.
At Monday's meeting, he hopes to talk with "larger business owners in the urban core of Champaign" about needs that could be addressed by enhanced power systems.
Don Schloff, executive vice president of Busey Bank, said the microgrid concept could yield advantages for the bank and its tenants in the Executive Center building at 115 N. Neil St., C.
The idea "seems to make sense" if the system uses inexpensive power and distributes it in a small area, Schlorff said.
Dick Warner, director of the UI's Office of Sustainability, said having a microgrid in Champaign-Urbana would be "a huge strategic advantage."
There's been lots of research into microgrids, but having a working system that could used by businesses – and studied by researchers – is "very needed right now," he said.