Microgrids


Microgrid Technology & Applications

Around the world, sustainable microgrids are emerging as a vital tool in the fight against climate change and natural disasters. In the wake of hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires, traditional energy grids struggle to keep the power flowing, causing outages that slow local economies and put lives at risk.

microgrid

What is a Microgrid?

A microgrid is a local, self-sufficient energy grid with its own control capability, which means it can disconnect from the traditional grid and operate autonomously. A microgrid can typically serve an area such as a domestic neighbourhood, university campus, business complex, or a hospital.

What is a microgrid

Within the microgrid are one or more sources of power, often including renewable sources such as solar and wind power. Many recently-built microgrids also include battery storage of energy. Modern microgrids are also often used for charging of electric vehicles, in line with their connection to renewable technologies. A key defining feature of microgrids is their locality. Energy in microgrids is produced autonomously for consumption by nearby users, as opposed to larger grids, like the National Grid, which supplies power over a massive area.

How do microgrids work?

Microgrids are independent from the traditional grid, with the ability to break off and produce its own energy for the local area. It can be powered by distributed generators, batteries, or, particularly in recent years, renewable sources of energy.

When there are problems with the central grid, such as outages and maintenance, users across a large area can be affected. Microgrids avoid this, so they are useful in times of crisis, such as storms.

Solar microgrid

In a Solar Microgrid, energy is generated from sunlight captured by the solar panels. This energy passes to the batteries through a solar charge controller, which protects the batteries from damage and extends their lifespan. Batteries are used for storage, so that the microgrid will still supply power at night and during cloudy weather.

Some of the energy passes through the AC/DC inverter and out into the community, to be consumed by microgrid users. The electricity passes through metres, to track energy use. The electricity supplied is used by homes and businesses in the community.

Where can Microgrids be used?

Microgrids have a wide range of uses, ranging from single buildings to entire large areas. Universities, hospitals, prisons, and office complexes are common settings for microgrids. Military operations, industrial ventures, and off-the-grid villages have also made use of this method of energy generation.

In Fort Collins, Colorado, there is a district using a microgrid as an environmental project, aiming for the community to generate as much energy as it produces.

Microgrids are ideal resources for remote communities, such as rural villages, remote islands, and mountainous locations. Areas with high levels of sunshine or wind are perfect for solar or wind-powered microgrids, offering a robust, viable and green solution to electrification of isolated communities.

Microgrids are also practical to rural communities, as they are viable at any scale, and have the ability to be expanded in the future. Microgrids are able to grow along with communities – a 1.5kw solar microgrid, which can provide dependable electricity for 25 homes and 5 businesses, is fully capable of being upgraded to a 15kw capacity, connecting to a much wider community.

The firm Guidehouse expects that combined global microgrid capacity will reach 19,888MW by the year 2028 – up from 3,480MW in 2019 – with North America and Asia being the main areas of growth (Wood, 2020).

Benefits of microgrids

Microgrids are beneficial because they allow communities to be energy-independent, not relying on larger networks for power needs. This means they are reliable for smaller and more isolated communities, with less developed infrastructures.

Benefits of microgrids

A key appeal for microgrids is their protection from problems that affect the traditional grid, including maintenance issues, storms, and even cyberattacks. When such issues occur, microgrids can be ‘islanded’, to continue to supply their communities with power independently.

Microgrids offer reliable, efficient and green energy at a low-cost, both to investors and consumers.

Microgrids also improve the stability of the regional or national grid as a whole, by reducing the electrical congestion and ‘peak times’ experienced by larger grids. Microgrids are also more energy-efficient. Electricity from distant sources dissipates in transit, by as much as 8% to 15% (Wood, 2020). Producing energy from a local microgrid overcomes this, saving energy and reducing environmental impact.

Development and maintenance of microgrids will contribute to local economies and employment, providing jobs and making use of local resources. This can be a huge gain to less developed communities.

Some of the energy passes through the AC/DC inverter and out into the community, to be consumed by microgrid users. The electricity passes through metres, to track energy use. The electricity supplied is used by homes and businesses in the community.

Sources:

Lanter, Allison (2014) ‘How Microgrids Work.’ Energy.gov
https://www.energy.gov/articles/how-microgrids-work

Renewable World (2019) ‘Solar Grid Technology.’ Renewable World
https://renewable-world.org/our-approach-to-renewable-energy/technologies/solar-microgrids/

Wood, Elisa (2020) ‘What is a Microgrid?’
Microgrid Knowledge https://microgridknowledge.com/microgrid-defined/

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