Energy generation is rapidly evolving to become more localized. At the core of this power shift is local governments looking to become more cost-efficient. The rise of microgrids, a form of decentralized power, can serve as a solution for cities and communities seeking more reliable and cost-effective energy solutions. As this emerging concept of more flexible, independent power spreads, the more energy security residents and businesses will have.
Definition of a Microgrid
A microgrid is simply a smaller version of the traditional grid. It's a subsystem that serves a select property or community with electricity. It can either be connected to the main grid or operate completely autonomous from it.
In the event of a power outage, a microgrid can kick in to provide temporary power to its community. The switch to alternative power can be controlled automatically or done manually.
The three components that define a microgrid are: a subsystem that produces local energy, a storage system, and a smart energy management system. The ability to transmit both power and information surrounding it is one reason why a microgrid is so attractive to cities looking to cut costs. Analyzing data on production processes and gaining actionable insights from it is one of the most effective ways to streamline an operation.
The main grid provides power to buildings and homes on a continuous and expected basis, although sometimes there is downtime due to power failure and maintenance. In these cases, a microgrid can operate in "island mode" and provide electricity until primary grid power is restored.
A microgrid can power either a single building or an entire business district. The U.S. Department of Energy is currently exploring new ways to expand upon this technology. Many cities are already integrating this technology into local infrastructure.
How a Microgrid Improves a Community
While major urban centers can use microgrids for backup power, various types of other communities can benefit enormously from this emerging power distribution concept as well. Rural and wilderness areas are prime examples of places where a microgrid will be helpful, since as much as 15% of electricity transmitted over long power lines goes to waste. Schools and local co-op organizations should also look into this solution for ensuring energy is delivered and used as efficiently as possible.
Seattle is one of several major cities that has moved toward adopting microgrid solutions. One of the city's developments in this transformation includes a $3.3 million solar project to renovate its Miller Community Center. The 200-kilowatt microgrid utilizes an 800-kilowatt-hour battery. This amount of electricity can power the average home for about a month.
Industrial microgrids can ensure reliable electric power generation for factories. It's important for large factories to avoid disruptions to production schedules, which can trigger a domino effect of consequences to partners in the supply chain.
The military can also benefit from the use of microgrids. Transporting fuel in warzones is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Eliminating this job by being able to efficiently generate and store energy independently is one of the main reasons military bases are looking at renewable energy microgrids.
Additionally, microgrids can help save lives during emergencies caused by natural disasters. Hospitals, for instance, could still operate even if the grid gets damaged and goes offline.
Virtually any operation that involves big machinery and large energy consumption can become more efficient and reliable by using alternative power sources integrated with energy storage and IoT monitoring devices. In some cases, it's possible to always use a microgrid system in "island mode" as the main source of power.The future of electric power will include the expansion of microgrids, which will make electricity more reliable. No longer will people depend on one source of energy with the advent of overlapping microgrids throughout the traditional system. Communities will more likely have continuous access to energy in the future, thanks to the integration of smaller power generation systems. And urban planning will improve significantly, as more forms of alternative energy sources emerge.