Solar energy to power TC Energy renewable natural gas (RNG) interconnects – meter stations that measure the amount of gas being transported – is helping the company to work towards our net-zero commitment while also enabling the company to sell renewable energy to the local utility.
“We have four RNG interconnects in Michigan and Iowa that will have solar arrays installed. Our first installation came into service at our Sandyview, Michigan, location just last week,” said Amjad Ismail, Interconnect Program manager.
The solar power generated at each location will help decrease TC Energy’s carbon footprint by using 100% renewable energy to power the RNG interconnects.
“The idea for the Solar RNG interconnects came up last summer during a discussion about how TC Energy could lean into more energy options,” explained Ruba Ahmad, TC Energy’s Business Development manager for U.S. Natural Gas.
“We learned that when RNG is associated with renewable power, it is considered more valuable because less carbon is used to get it to market. With this approach, RNG can be sold for more money and, in turn, we can attract more RNG producers to move their gas. Investing in solar was a value-add both for producers and for TC Energy.”
The size of the RNG interconnect solar arrays are calculated to offset the site’s yearly power consumption regardless of seasonal, or even daily, fluctuations in available sunlight. This is achieved by swapping out the conventional electric meter with a net-metering unit which can capture energy flow in both directions. Since the average amount of annual sunlight for the RNG interconnect locations is fairly constant every year, the power production can be accurately predicted to achieve a target yearly consumption. The calculation even allows for typical amounts of snow and dirt accumulation throughout the year.
To move the vision to reality, the solar panel installations were sourced through Solarcraft, a Texas-based company that specializes in custom solar power solutions. Jun Gao, TC Energy’s project’s engineer worked with Solarcraft’s team, including Andre Scholtz, Solarcraft’s technical director, to procure a solar power solution for four RNG sites. Through working together, the companies settled on two designs of three fixed-angle solar array structures mounted to concrete anchor blocks matched to the geography of the RNG sites.
“Using anchor blocks means less ground disturbance, simplifying the installation and minimizing environmental impact,” explained Jun.
Added Andre, “our combined team created the two designs to minimize the solar panel footprint while maximizing electricity generation.”
The collaboration paid off with the entire timeline from idea to installation completed in less than a year.
“A real asset in working with Solarcraft to achieve this timeline was how the solar components arrived onsite ready to be assembled and connected to the electricity grid,” said Sandyview project manager Leslie Ramos.
The onsite installation is also helping drive demand for Solarcraft. Todd Bermont, Solarcraft’s Sales and Business Development vice-president said, “we are definitely seeing more business connected to net-zero initiatives. What TC Energy is doing with this project is contributing to the community and environment directly with reliable, carbon free-energy and we’re glad we were a part of bringing their idea to reality.”
Ruba summed up the effort as, “TC Energy is here to solve energy problems, and pairing traditional forms of energy with new forms of energy allows us to explore business models and reflect what both our customers and communities care about. This project is just one example of how we’re doing that.”
Installing Solarcraft’s panels at the Sandyview, Michigan, RNG interconnect site occurred quickly over several weeks:
1. In April, at the Solarcraft facility in Sugar Land, Texas, TC Energy met with Solarcraft representatives for the first of four solar power system factory acceptance tests. This solar array is one of three installed at the Sandyview, Michigan. site today.
Left to right: Todd Bermont, Josh Steinhoff (Solarcraft lead project engineer), Leslie Ramos, Michael Henry (TC Energy Project Engineering team lead) and Jun Gao at the factory acceptance test.
2. Site preparation at the Sandyview meter station interconnect near Hamilton, Michigan.
3. In May, concrete anchor supports were installed at the Sandyview site to support onsite structures.
4. In June, concrete anchors were poured.
5. A small pipeline was installed to connect the RNG meter station interconnect to TC Energy’s larger ANR system.
6. In July, in-service welding was completed.
7. With site pipeline work finished, three solar arrays were installed at the site in mid-July.
8. Interconnect equipment installation followed in late July.
9. Commissioning was done in early August which included approval of meter skid installation and coordinating communication of the interconnect with the Operations Control Centre in Houston.
10. With installation complete, a fence was installed and site restoration began to bring the site back to original condition.
11. On August 1, Sandyview Meter Station was placed in-service.