Schenectady-based DSD on high growth trajectory as green power expands – The Daily Gazette

SCHENECTADY — Less than three years after leaving the mothership, General Electric spin-off DSD Renewables has nearly tripled its workforce by adding solar power to the power grid and to customer facilities.

DSD’s headquarters in Mohawk Harbor houses a small percentage of its approximately 170 employees – many more work remotely or in satellite offices.

DSD uses sunlight to generate electricity at customer sites, then charges those customers less for that electricity than their local utility would. These solutions often include a storage component, a bank of batteries to maintain power when the sun is not shining or not shining at all.

A project that DSD recently completed in Rotterdam brings all of these things together and boosts local solar production enough that the Schenectady County Solar Energy Consortium has met its target: the electricity needs of city, town and city governments. of the county are completely satisfied by the local solar energy.

STEADY GROWTH

DSD’s growth is both in size and number of contracts, said CEO Erik Schiemann.

“We are seeing an increase in value, and because [of that] we are able to seek more volume,” he said.

DSD was founded in 2012 as GE Solar, an in-house incubator company that was a developer rather than a manufacturer – it used other companies’ technology to create the best solution for its customers, which are usually larger industrial or commercial operations.

In July 2019, BlackRock Real Assets bought 80% of GE Solar and became “Distributed Solar Development, A GE Renewable Energy Venture”. The new company moved to Erie Boulevard from the GE campus in Mohawk Harbor with a staff of approximately 60 people. BlackRock then acquired the remaining 20% ​​and renamed it DSD Renewables.

DSD remains technology-agnostic, Schiemann said, still neither manufacturing equipment nor committing to any company or its technology.

“Customers come to us and we go to them to identify a problem,” he said. And that problem is that the energy they use is non-renewable and expensive.

DSD builds, finances and owns an on-site solar energy system for the customer and recovers its investment by selling the electricity to the customer and/or the local utility.

A battery storage unit, if included in the mix, adds the ability to sell power to the grid when it’s most expensive or save it for when it’s most needed locally.

SOLAR COUNTY

DSD recently completed the last of seven solar panels ordered by the Schenectady County Solar Energy Consortium. This latest installation, along the Thruway at Rynex Corners Road in Rotterdam, is one of the most powerful of the seven, rated at 4.5 megawatts.

The seven facilities total about 25 megawatts of capacity, enough to power all county, city and town government operations, said County Attorney Chris Gardner, who has been a leading proponent of the solar power as the consortium took shape over the past five years. .

There were no disbursements to the municipalities, apart from the land they provided, some of which had limited potential for use – the former landfills in Rotterdam, Glenville and Schenectady are among the host sites.

Gardner said electricity from solar sites is about 25% cheaper than grid electricity. The resulting savings fluctuate around $800,000 per year.

The arrangement saves money and helps the environment, Gardner said, adding that Schenectady County may be the only county that can say its governments are completely solar-powered.

NEW TECHNOLOGY

The solar panels at the Rynex Corners Road site went online in April 2021. The 10 megawatt storage unit went online in December and incorporates newer technology to increase efficiency.

Matt Kaufmann, vice president of energy storage and electric vehicle charging infrastructure at DSD, said the process of transferring newly generated electricity from the panels to a battery and back to the power grid at the same time has historically been complicated by a bottleneck of efficiency-robbing and changing inverters. electricity flows back and forth from direct current to alternating current.

In Rotterdam, DSD uses direct DC-DC coupling between the solar panel and the battery.

“It’s a more efficient way to control when solar power hits the grid,” Kaufmann said. “The real challenge was aligning the inverters to simultaneously accept the power flows. The main difference is that we can build a larger [solar power array] than we could.

An added benefit of energy storage is to reduce stress on the power grid, Shiemann said, serving as a buffer that smoothes the solar power generation profile that continually changes with time of day and degree of cloud cover.

Electricity storage will be needed on a large scale if New York is to meet its stated goal of increasing electricity production by 500% over the next three decades, almost entirely with the inconsistent production of wind turbines and solar panels.

Schiemann said not all DSD projects integrate energy storage because not all are required to, but he believes the cost of storage is a limiting factor at this point. Solar technology has become a viable and economical large-scale energy source, he said, and he thinks storage will catch up.

Solar was at the same inflection point a decade ago that storage is now, he added, but has made huge strides since.

Asked if these technological advances may make the equipment DSD uses today obsolete, Schiemann said efficiency should improve but fundamental compatibility will endure. Either way, he added, this is not a concern for customers: DSD owns and operates the equipment and would pay for any necessary upgrades to provide customers with their electricity at the specified discount. .

“You buy predictability,” he said.

BUSINESS MODEL

The work-from-home model common during the pandemic was neither new nor disruptive for DSD. It has always had a large remote component of its workforce as it pursued contracts across the country.

“It forced me to have a flexible working policy early on,” Schiemann said. “Even at GE, we had a fairly liberal remote work policy.”

There is no command center with a floor-to-ceiling display of solar assets installed by DSD. The operations and management team can view and troubleshoot just about anything on their smartphones.

The Schenectady and New York offices have room for periodic brainstorming sessions that bring together a workforce that includes people with expertise in sales, finance, engineering, land use planning, law and construction management.

Sometimes what is needed are soft skills more than hard skills, such as when presenting a proposal to a community.

Schiemann said DSD doesn’t face the same kind of neighborly pushback that solar developers sometimes see when proposing a grid on farmland.

Rooftops and commercial sites are the most common location for a DSD project.

“We’re not usually the ones who are going to do an installation in an area that’s going to be massively noticeable,” Schiemann said. “Do you really mind walking past an industrial site and seeing a solar panel?

In case of opposition or just curiosity, DSD presents three-dimensional computer-generated images of what the painting will look like, and these can be manipulated to be viewed from any angle.

“We’ve gotten really good at delivering renders where you don’t even have to imagine what it will look like,” Schiemann said.

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