Buildings and Places, Decarbonization, Delivering on Decarbonization, Energy, Environment, Net Zero, Sustainability

In this Decarbonization blog series, we’re highlighting our portfolio decarbonization and sustainability experts and how they are supporting our clients to reach their net zero goals.

Tell us a bit about yourself – your role and career journey.

I’m the Decarbonization Technical Lead for our High Performance Buildings team based out of Washington D.C., United States. 

My educational background is in physics. I really loved how physics helped explain the way the world works and I realized that I wanted to pursue an education and career in the sustainable built environment.

My career journey started with a year of service with AmeriCorps where I worked with Habitat for Humanity in Northern Virginia working on the development of sustainable buildings.  After working for Habitat for Humanity, I got involved in the Solar Decathlon, which is a competition for net zero homes sponsored by the Department of Energy.  One of the homes that won the competition that year was built by the University of Colorado. That inspired me to pursue a master’s degree at the university, focusing my thesis on the least cost pathways for net zero homes in the U.S. working with the National Renewable Energy Lab.

Talk to us about a project that has impacted or been a major highlight of your career. How is it solving the challenges and issues many companies and communities are facing today? 

One project that stands out is our electrification initiative in collaboration with the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the primary transportation agency serving Washington, D.C., and the D.C. Metro region. This project was initiated in response to a zero-emission requirement law that was passed in Washington, D.C. WMATA decided to pilot a program to electrify its entire bus fleet.

We developed a comprehensive plan to transition WMATA’s vast bus fleet of approximately 1,200 service buses, from a mix of diesel and compressed natural gas to zero-emission alternatives by 2045. This required a complete overhaul of their service offerings, maintenance practices and operations. Additionally, we designed and executed a pilot program for WMATA to procure and operate electric buses, conducting rigorous testing to evaluate their performance relative to the existing fleet.

This project is particularly relevant as it solved the major problem faced by many transit agencies today: the push for zero-emission solutions and the need to replace traditional fossil fuel-based fleets with battery, electric or hydrogen-powered buses. It was also a complex project because WMATA’s service territory spans across D.C., Maryland and Virginia, encompassing multiple electricity utilities with distinct rate schedules and electrification approaches. We collaborated closely with these utilities and their electrification offices to ensure that the grid capacity within WMATA’s operational area could support the charging needs of their expanding electric bus fleet over the next three decades.

Can you provide specific examples where energy storage projects within the built environment have effectively contributed to decarbonization by reducing reliance on traditional energy sources and promoting cleaner, sustainable energy solutions? 

One notable case is the battery energy storage project implemented at Fort Carson, a U.S. Army base in Colorado. The primary goal of this project was to build an on-site battery energy storage system to enhance resilience. Fort Carson relied on the electric utility for power and certain aspects of their operations required uninterrupted access to electricity. To address this, they added a battery energy storage system that could feed their mission with energy that’s stored on-site. This ensured that critical operations could continue without interruption.

Additionally, the system offered cost-saving opportunities. Fort Carson gained the flexibility to choose when and how they accessed grid electricity, taking advantage of lower-cost electricity during off-peak hours and reducing operational costs by switching to their battery system and using the energy that was stored overnight. Furthermore, the installation now had the capability to integrate on-site renewable energy generation, further increasing resilience. By harnessing locally generated power and storing it in the battery system, Fort Carson can now extend its operational capacity during grid outages, especially in cases of emergency that is beyond their control — like severe weather or natural disasters.

What are some of the recent innovations in energy storage technology that are specifically designed to support decarbonization initiatives? 

One of them is the concept of microgrids. Microgrids are a vital component of modern energy systems, as they incorporate on-site energy storage. A microgrid essentially adapts the principles of large-scale transmission and distribution grids, typically from a large power plant, for smaller-scale applications. This shifts the reliance on power plants that use coal, natural gas, or other fossil fuels located miles away and means the generation assets can be distributed and located closer, even within a project’s boundary or an installations boundary. This allows facilities to function independently of an external grid, which increases the resilience and allows more control over loads within the microgrid boundary.

Microgrids offer several key benefits for decarbonization efforts.
1) They enhance resilience by enabling a facility to function independently of the external grid during outages. This control extends to load management, allowing precise control over which loads receive power and for how long during prolonged outages.
2) They grant greater autonomy in energy management, reducing reliance on external energy sources.

As power becomes more expensive and demand charges from utilities increase, microgrids also help minimize expenses by generating power on-site and effectively controlling energy consumption within the facility’s boundaries, hence reducing operational expenses.

Originally published Oct 19, 2023

Author: Sean Casey