A new Dynamic Market: Q&A with microgrid expert Chris Dunlap


Microgrids are surely on the rise in the U.S. and globally for various technically sound and heartfelt reasons.

This growth is spurred by resiliency fears brought on by major storms which brought down transmission and distribution lines, an interest in seeing how renewable energy and battery storage best integrate and, finally, sometimes a simple desire to disconnect and live off the main grid.

The industry experts who volunteer to plan POWER-GEN International, the biggest annual conference and exhibition for the power plant sector, have heard those reasons and responded. The conference is offering a microgrid track for the first time in its history. POWER-GEN is celebrating its 30th anniversary December 4-6 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.

Chris Dunlap is chair of the Microgrids: An Ideal Solution track. Dunlap, who is business development manager of power generation, Americas for Schneider Electric, is making most of his first year on the POWER-GEN program committee by leading the new track. He is making sure this up-and-coming part of the distributed energy sector receives its due attention and offers solid, cutting-edge information on microgrid development. He talked to POWER-GEN about his career and hopes for spreading the microgrid word throughout the industry.

Chris, how did you get started in working on the grid?

“Approximately 30 years ago, I began working in the power generation industry. I have always been fascinated with mechanical and electrical technology in this field and I transitioned over the years to the automation and controls for power generation plants.

What attracted you into the microgrids field?

“More recently, I have seen an exciting change in the power generation industry as a whole, which has created a much more dynamic marketplace with the advent of newer, lower cost, cleaner energy generating sources and more readily available distributed generation technology for utilities, municipalities and end users.

“I’ve also seen a large amount of public and private capital that urgently wants to invest in this burgeoning field. What used to be more of a slower-moving, more conservative industry is now much more dynamic and changing rapidly. Also, with more available information and distributed generation options, the automation solution is becoming more complex to achieve resilience, efficiency and sustainability goals which further interests me. I must say, the microgrid field is quite interesting and exciting for newer and older professionals alike.

POWER-GEN has the new Microgrids track. Why is now the right time to offer this at a power generation conference?

“First, a big “thank you” to the PGI/Clarion Events team for hosting this new track at Power-Gen. This is exactly the right time for this track to help power generation professionals to better understand the mega trends causing this new energy landscape and the solutions and challenges to generating electric and thermal output in a more resilient, efficient and sustainable manner.

“This is an excellent venue to hear “best practices” from microgrid industry professionals and to be better-prepared to stay relevant in the new energy landscape. No matter whether you are an engineering professional, senior executive, OEM, supplier, utility professional or consultant, you will find the thought leadership of this Microgrid track to be top-notch.

It’s called an ideal solution, but what are some of the challenges and/or limitations with microgrids?

“The word “ideal” may be a misnomer, but there are many reasons why this power generation segment is the fastest-growing sub-segment. In the U.S. alone, the growth rate is 17 percent CAGR with a 10X growth rate expected over the next 10 years. In fact, by the end of 2023, renewable generation and storage are expected to represent 22 percent of the annually installed capacity—much of which will be part of a microgrid.

“Military microgrids will continue to play an important role, especially to increase resiliency/reliability, but city/community and commercial microgrids will increase substantially. As we have all seen across North America and globally, there continues to be natural disasters such as hurricanes and typhoons which wipe out many of our power generation and T&D resources. This is a challenge to us all to create more distributed microgrid capabilities for our highest priority electric and thermal generation needs.

“We are experiencing many large engineering firms “re-tooling” themselves to work less on the large generation plants with an emphasis on the smaller, distributed generation/microgrids. Plus, globally, there are many regions better-suited for distributed generation solutions using a multitude of generating sources in a microgrid context. There is a great need for more knowledge in this industry segment and Power-Gen International is the ideal forum to gain this much-needed industry know-how and help to make the important professional connections during many networking opportunities.

Specifically, what is unique about the some of the sessions in this track?

“We will have three very unique and interesting sessions in the Microgrid track where you will hear from utility, engineering firm, OEM and technology suppliers. The sessions will include expert panel discussions, case studies (with lessons learned), the evolution of microgrids and all about the diversity in technologies for the field.”