Path to Zero
Path to Zero
2.10 - Accelerating Decarbonization with Microgrids

In this episode of Path to Zero, Tucker talks to energy industry leader Dr. Peter Lilienthal, whose expertise in microgrids and renewable energy goes back more than four decades. Dr. Lilienthal is the CEO of HOMER Energy. The company’s microgrid design software empowers people around the world accelerate the adoption of behind-the-meter, hybrid energy systems.

In recent years, hybrid systems have evolved from being only small microgrids serving remote villages to hybrid power systems at all scales. Dr. Lilienthal works a great deal in developing countries, where grid coverage is low and renewables are most cost effective. He has a Ph.D. in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University. Before starting HOMER Energy, Dr. Lilienthal was Senior Economist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Hybrid Power Systems

The evolution of hybrid systems is aligned with the history of HOMER Energy. The roots of the company started nearly 30 years ago in response to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the United States made commitments to developing countries to help them with renewable energy. A village power program was created to address the fact that 2 billion people around the world at that time didn’t have access to electricity.

Since the technology wasn’t ready, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was tasked with an initiative to develop a tool for hybrid systems because solar and wind didn’t stand on their own. Those renewable sources needed a backup energy source, such as a generator, batteries or both. Lilienthal says they learned about the importance of remote monitoring. As the technology improved, it resulted in more successful and larger hybrid power projects.

Dr. Lilienthal founded HOMER Energy LLC in 2009 to commercialize HOMER (Hybrid Optimization of Multiple Energy Resources). HOMER software has been downloaded more than 250,000 times and has modeled more than 90,000 projects in over 190 countries. For example, HOMER technology was used to model an islanded off-grid electricity system to completely power the corporate headquarters of Sandbar Solar in Santa Cruz, California.

In December 2019, HOMER Energy became a subsidiary of UL where Dr. Lilienthal now serves as the global lead for microgrids.

Decarbonization Tool

According to Dr. Lilienthal, the landscape of decarbonization and the clean energy transition are changing due to improvements in solar, wind and battery technology, as well as the growing recognition of the need for resiliency.

Distributed energy technology has matured and is able to provide high penetration renewable power at a cost below traditional power in developed countries. Another factor contributing to the rise in microgrids, is the dramatic price reductions in solar and advancements in lithium batteries, mostly due to the interest in electric vehicles.

Powering Health

Lilienthal also talks to Tucker about HOMER Energy’s Powering Health tool, a free online microgrid modeling tool to help developing countries improve the capacity and reliability of power systems to meet the increased demands of caring for patients with COVID-19.

Due to the expected increase in electrical demand, the World Bank contracted HOMER Energy to update the tool with data for the medical equipment needed for COVID-19 patient care. Powering Health is helping health facilities ranging from rural clinics to district hospitals around the world respond more effectively to the pandemic.