This year Microgrid conference started with a list of people who have suffered from power outages this year. The outages were caused by damaged power lines and were incredibly costly to remedy. This highlighted the clear need to find a better method of providing the public with electricity.
So far, microgrids have not been flying off the shelves. Nevertheless, adoption of this system is growing every year despite some clear challenges that have prevented people from wanting to get involved with them. Microgrids need a variety of specialist technology and equipment and those using them needs to abide by a number of regulations and policies. They are also reasonably pricey. Furthermore, the technology that powers these microgrids is not standardized.
The main adopters of microgrids so far have been military bases, universities, schools and hospitals. This is because these markets each have their own individual motivation for adopting this technology. For example, clean energy microgrids can help universities achieve their goals of sustainability. Meanwhile, a microgrid could provide better cyber security and energy independence for a military base or greater energy stability for a hospital.
There are a few projects taking place across the US that show the effectiveness of using microgrids but these are rare at present. This is despite the fact that there is growing proof that the current grid system in the United States is in dire need of renovation and is vulnerable in a variety of different ways. But, there is hope that utilities might start to recognise that microgrids could be a non-wires alternative thanks to their capacity for shaping loads and thus eliminating the problem of costly transmission upgrades.
Doug Staker, a VP with Demand Energy Networks (DEN, an Enel company) said “One of the things about grid-connected microgrids is we have the ability to create load with the storage at night and then we are able to take and time shift and manage that load to manage the building load or manage that network load”.
He continued by explaining that if you flatten a load, the overall efficiency is improved and thus the need for these expensive upgrades becomes greatly reduced.
There are also resiliency issues in the current system in the US. These could potentially be solved with the adoption of microgrids. When there is a serious storm or a forest fire in a remote part of the country, falling trees can take out power lines and their poles. Once these are destroyed, the effect is multi-day outages.
In this situation a microgrid could continue providing power to a gas station, police station and hospital while the outage is fixed. At the very least this would keep the town in question functioning on a basic level while full functionality is being restored.
Staker concluded by saying, “I think you are going to see more and more utilities look to build that infrastructure or do like Con Ed did with us and incent private developers to go out and build them.”