Microgrids Deliver Resiliency, Security and Savings
The term microgrid suggests thinking small, but the big picture for these IoT-based energy technologies is how they could revolutionize the distribution of electrical energy around the world.
Microgrids—often also referred to as smart grids—are essentially subsets of the larger electrical utility grids, designed to give organizations greater control over their energy resources and to make better use of utility-provided energy in conjunction with locally produced power.
In a published report—The U.S. Department of Energy’s Microgrid Initiative—the DoE defines a microgrid as “a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid.”
The definition continues with a key feature that achieves one of the primary goals of microgrid implementation: “A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island-mode.’’
Islanding provides the mechanism for microgrid owners to realize improved resiliency when the utility grid may not provide adequate—or any—electrical power.
“The main reason [for microgrid implementations] in the U.S.—which is the world’s leading market for microgrids that are connected to the grid—is . . . unreliability,” noted Peter Asmus, who tracks emerging energy distribution networks in his role as a research director for Navigant Research.
Of course, resiliency also means that an organization can produce its own power when needed.
“The biggest key is just in the area of resiliency, and that [microgrids] can provide the opportunity to island from the grid,” noted Justin Brant, a senior associate with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) a nonprofit clean energy advocacy group. “When the grid may be down, you can still provide basic services.”
The Genesis of Microgrids
Microgrids were developed largely in response to our changing climate. Disasters on both U.S. coasts—hurricanes and massive storms in the east and wildfires in the West—emphasized the need for more resilient power source.
“The hot spots for microgrids are the East Coast and California,” said Asmus, “mainly because of resiliency but also because those are high-cost regions.”
SWEEP’s Brant also credits meteorological conditions for the growing awareness about the benefits of microgrids: “There’s a lot of interest in the area, especially if we think about adapting to the impacts of climate change.” Brant cited New York University as an example; during Hurricane Sandy, the university managed to provide power to its facilities while most of New York City—and a wide swath of the metropolitan area—was left in the dark.
Hospitals, Universities Lead Microgrid Adoption
While hospitals and other disaster recovery facilities are logical candidates for IoT microgrids, universities have also been at the forefront of microgrid deployments. While these organizations have different functions, their common denominator is self-contained campus locales, which makes a microgrid a viable alternative. Prisons also fall into that category.