The POWER Interview: CleanSpark’s Bryan Huber Talks Microgrids, C&I Installations

Commercial and industrial (C&I) sites increasingly are looking for ways to increase the reliability and resiliency of their power supply, along with controlling their energy costs. These C&I projects include distribution centers, data centers, office parks, hospitals, college campuses, and also military bases.

CleanSpark, a San Diego, California–based technology company which specializes in the optimized design and operation of innovative microgrid projects for numerous industries, earlier this month announced that it had received government acceptance of its solar-plus-storage microgrid at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, one of the largest Marine Corps bases in the U.S., located in San Diego County in Southern California.

Bryan Huber, COO of CleanSpark

Camp Pendleton’s Communications Information Systems (CIS) Operations Complex includes a data center, headquarters facility, maintenance and supply warehouse, and related communications infrastructure. The project gets backup power from UPS (uninterruptible power supply) and standby generators, both diesel and dual-fueled, from Cummins. A subset of the critical loads are served by CleanSpark’s advanced solar-plus-storage microgrid, which offers perpetual off-grid renewable-driven energy security through an all iron flow battery DC coupled with solar photovoltaic (PV) generation located on carport structures and building rooftops.

Bryan Huber, chief operations officer for CleanSpark, recently talked to POWER about the company’s work at Camp Pendleton, along with the evolution of the C&I power generation market.

POWER: Could you talk about the difference in working with the U.S. military on a project, versus a project in the business sector?

Huber: “We’re very proud to support the defense community with energy security microgrid projects that also produce economic value by way of reduced operating expenses. It’s very difficult at the military level to earn contracts and timelines can be long for their deployment. Defense is interested in energy security. With Pendleton, our challenge was to provide critical loads secure power that can operate for long periods in the event of a grid outage. [At Camp Pendleton] we were responsible for the solar and storage deployed to the project. We have a hybrid cloud configuration, which houses CleanSpark’s custom software and SCADA. All the site intelligence is located onsite. There is a backup to the cloud, renewable driven energy security, power quality, and it’s cybersecurity hardened. By contrast, we find that business customers are most focused on economics compared to energy security, but often have a subset of their loads that they would like for utility outage ride through capability.”

POWER: Are there other challenges with developing these types of projects?

Huber: “Each division of the armed services procures contracts differently. And it’s different than dealing with C&I customers, because of the multitude of procurement mechanisms used such as design-build best value, energy savings performance contracts, as well as design/bid/build. Recently, it appears they focus some of their microgrids on energy savings performance contracts while energy security is still paramount for defense.

“We partnered with Bethel-Webcor four years ago on the [request for proposal (RFP)] for a small part of this project [known as P-1132]. It took four years from the proposal to get this project in the ground. We’re responsible for the renewables paired with storage on this project.”

POWER: When CleanSpark began developing microgrids, you said you thought much of your business would come from military installations? What has changed?

Huber: “We thought as much as 80% of our business would come from the defense community, but it’s really been about 20%, with most of our business coming from C&I. There are many considerations for commercial and industrial customers. There is the economics, but also energy security, because the cost of an outage to manufacturing, data-centric operations, a controlled environment agriculture grow operation or any business can be significant.”

POWER: When you talk to a potential microgrid customer, what are some of the things you discuss?

Huber: “Economics and energy security [for starters]. Take a cannabis-grow operation, or controlled environment agriculture site growing vegetables. They do not want to lose their product due to a power outage. A cannabis-grow operation is extremely energy-intensive, and they want to ensure the adequacy of their grid connection to grow their business. However, that may require an upgraded grid connection, which can take a very long time, or not be approved at all. Distributed generation and microgrids are good options for these customers or anyone looking to reduce expenses, increase resiliency, and limit their carbon footprint.”

POWER: What are some of the other considerations for C&I customers?

Huber: “We talk about avoided costs. We talk about maintaining energy security. Sometimes a customer wants to add a microgrid to existing generation, what we call legacy asset integration, to add another layer of resiliency. We always take a vendor-agnostic integration strategy to reduce first costs and choose the right equipment for the customer’s unique use case. We listen, we solve our customer’s problems, and we’re always striving to deliver them as much value as possible.”

POWER: Do C&I customers come to you with an idea of what they want? Or have you found that companies know they want to produce their own power, but don’t know where to start? (Editor’s note: CleanSpark earlier this month released a production version of its Microgrid Value Stream Optimizer (mVSO), a technology that combines high-level analytics of multiple solar PV arrangements and storage solutions in an effort to further cost savings.)

Huber: “Most C&I customers don’t recognize the opportunity they do have [to produce their own power]. The Microgrid Value Stream Optimizer enables us to answer the question of ‘what multi-DER [distributed energy resource] should I install?’ ”

POWER: Some C&I customers want to produce their own power in an effort to be “green.” How do you discuss that with them?

Huber: “I tell them to focus on cost savings and energy security. We’re passionate about clean energy and have used differing sources on every project we’ve completed; however, to many customers, sustainability is considered a ‘nice to have.’ When we focus on the balance of economics enabling the deal to get done, and have energy security, sustainable generation comes along for the ride.”

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).