Maryland Microgrid Will Produce Hydrogen for County's Transit Fleet

A microgrid project in Maryland could become a model for how integrated off-grid systems generate power for commercial and industrial installations, along with producing hydrogen to fuel transportation vehicles.

AlphaStruxure, a joint venture of Schneider Electric and Carlyle, on May 18 announced development of project that will feature bus charging and on-site green hydrogen production. The microgrid, serving a transit center in Montgomery County, will be powered by solar and battery energy storage.

Montgomery County is known for innovative microgrid projects. Today’s announcement comes after local officials in October of last year launched the Brookville Smart Energy Bus Depot (Figure 1), the county’s first fully constructed microgrid-powered transit site.

The microgrid project announced Thursday is for the county’s Equipment Maintenance and Transit Operation Center (EMTOC). It is one of three transit bus depots in the Ride-On Montgomery network, and the site is fifth-largest county-owned energy consumer. Construction of the project is expected to begin later this year, with commercial operation beginning in the first quarter of 2025. Officials said the depot is expected to accommodate more than 200 mixed-fleet vehicles by 2035.

1. An electric bus moves through the Brookville Smart Energy Bus Depot in Montgomery County, Maryland. The Brookville site is home to a 6.5-MW microgrid that uses AlphaStruxture’s management system, the same infrastructure that will be utilized at the county’s EMTOC complex. Source: AlphaStruxture

“I’ve been clear since the beginning that solidifying Maryland’s clean energy future is a major priority of mine, and the work that’s taking place in Montgomery County is what is going to make that a reality,” said Maryland Gov. Wes Moore. “This newly announced clean energy bus depot sets a model for communities across the state and the nation. Our administration is so glad to see this work being done, and we will continue to advocate for projects like this all across Maryland.”

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The installation will be the first transit bus depot on the U.S. East Coast to feature green hydrogen production, and when complete would be the largest self-sustaining bus depot in the nation. The 7-MW microgrid will feature a rooftop and canopy solar array generating more than 5 MW of electricity (Figure 2). It will include 2-MW/7.35-MWh of battery energy storage, along with existing backup generation, enabling what officials said would be “indefinite” operation in an islanded mode.

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) in California, in conjunction with Proterra and Scale Microgrid Solutions, is building a 1.5-MW, solar-powered microgrid to power its bus fleet. The group also plans to bring in hydrogen as it adds hydrogen-powered vehicles to its fleet.

Maximize Use of DERs

The Montgomery County microgrid is designed to eliminate power disruptions and maximize the use of distributed energy resources (DERs) for resilience. Its technology includes software tools and IoT-connected hardware, with system performance managed by AlphaStruxure’s Integrate digital platform that monitors and optimizes on-site energy and charging infrastructure.

“Once built, the EMTOC microgrid will be the gold standard for resilient, sustainable public transit. This project also further establishes Montgomery County, Maryland, as the nation’s leading municipality when it comes to embracing the transit infrastructure of tomorrow,” said Juan Macias, CEO of AlphaStruxure.

2. This rendering of the Equipment Maintenance and Transit Operation Center (EMTOC) in Montgomery County, Maryland, shows how the complex utilizes rooftops and canopies to maximize production of solar energy. Source: AlphaStruxture

The depot will have electric bus chargers and up to 4.5 MW of charging capacity. The microgrid’s hydrogen production, from the on-site solar generation, along with its charging capability will provide power to a mixed fleet of battery electric and fuel cell buses (Figure 3), along with EMTOC’s five existing buildings. The microgrid will be interconnected to the local Pepco utility.

Officials said having hydrogen produced on-site means the fuel cell electric buses, or FCEBs, will have a resilient supply of power, enabling a greater travel range than the battery-powered vehicles. That will allow for longer bus routes in the county’s system. The FCEB is a zero-emissions vehicle, powered by hydrogen and oxygen, and discharges only water. There are thousands of FCEBs in use worldwide, most of them in Asia.

The microgrid’s ability to operate in island mode means the site will continue to function during extended power outages or grid downtime, and in emergency situations.

3. The bus depot at the Montgomery County transit center will feature charging/fueling stations for both battery-powered and hydrogen fuel cell-operated buses. Source: AlphaStruxture

Officials said the microgrid will initially fuel at least 13 FCEBs with green hydrogen produced by the site’s solar power. The complex will support Montgomery County’s goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2035.

EaaS Business Model

AlphaStruxure will finance the project through its Energy as a Service (EaaS) business model. The group also is delivering all aspects of design, construction, and long-term operations and maintenance. Officials stressed that the microgrid, being built through an EaaS contract, will not require a capital outlay from Montgomery County. The contract ensures predictable operating expenses and guaranteed performance without upfront capital expenditures for construction.

“Through our long-term partnership with AlphaStruxure, we’re excited to launch one of the most advanced bus depots in the country,” said Marc Elrich, county executive for Montgomery County. “This project represents a significant milestone in our ongoing efforts to achieve our ambitious climate action, which aims to reduce all carbon emissions by 2035 while substantially enhancing the resilience of our transit services. Of particular excitement is the integration of green hydrogen production, powered by the microgrid, highlighting our commitment to pioneering cutting-edge renewable solutions and leading by example when it comes to sustainable, resilient transportation.”

“Once again, AlphaStruxure and Montgomery County are redefining the benchmarks for sustainable and resilient transit infrastructure,” said Annette Clayton, CEO of Schneider Electric North America. “Electrification, digitization, and decarbonization are crucial to address our energy challenges, and microgrids play a pivotal role in achieving these objectives. Schneider Electric is proud to contribute to this innovative project, and we commend county leaders for their forward-thinking approach in better serving local residents. Once completed, this groundbreaking microgrid will stand unparalleled across the nation, representing the county’s commitment to innovation and progress.”

Montgomery County placed a higher priority on reliable and resilient electricity after a 2012 derecho weather event caused much of the county to lose power. They also wanted sustainable infrastructure projects as part of their climate change initiatives.

Decarbonizing the Bus Fleet

Maryland is working toward a 50% zero-emission bus fleet by 2030. Several groups, including the state’s Office of Energy and Sustainability, are working to transition transit fleets away from fossil fuels, while also supporting new depot infrastructure to reduce emissions from public transportation.

“As a former transportation engineer, I know that comprehensive transportation projects are those that are equitable, accessible, and help us meet our climate goals,” said Aruna Miller, the state’s lieutenant governor. “The clean energy bus depot in Montgomery County checks all those boxes and will bolster the work of the Moore-Miller administration to make Maryland a leader in transportation access and clean energy technology.”

“Zero-emission buses running on clean, renewable power: this is what the future of public transit looks like,” said U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. “I was glad to help secure federal funding to enable the county to expand its zero-emission bus fleet, which together with this depot will propel Montgomery County forward in its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint while making its transit system more reliable and cost-effective.”

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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