After catastrophic extreme weather events, it is often seen that the only remaining powered areas of a city are like "islands of light in a sea of darkness". This is made possible by the deployment of microgrids.
It is no secret that energy grids in many parts of the world struggle to keep their power flowing, especially in the wake of climate disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires, causing outages which impact local economies and put lives at risk.
Microgrid technology can mitigate these risks by increasing grid reliability. Using microgrids, we can mitigate the increasing risk of outages, be it due to our antiquating power grids or natural disasters.
Even though microgrids have been around for a while now, until recently, they were used only by a limited number of users such as hospitals, large commercial businesses, and the military. However, these uses have clearly demonstrated the huge benefits of microgrid technology, especially as it continues to develop and advance to greater heights.
Read more to find out all you need to know about microgrids.
What is a microgrid?
A microgrid is commonly misunderstood as a simple distributed or backup energy system, such as rooftop solar panels or emergency generators.
But that’s not all that a microgrid does.
Unlike standalone simple distributed or backup energy systems, microgrids will keep the power flowing when the central power grid fails.
A microgrid is local
A microgrid contains energy that is locally produced and managed for nearby customers.
It is smaller in scale compared to the national size central power grids which we have relied on for the past century.
Central power grids push electricity from power plants over long distances which is very inefficient and loses around 10% to 12% in doing so. Microgrids overcome this inefficiency by generating power close to those it serves.
A microgrid is independent
While microgrids can be fully independent, most of the time they do not need to be, unless they are geographically remote or in an area with no central power grid.
Instead, most microgrids typically remain connected to the central power grid during regular operation. They will only disconnect and work independently if the central power grid suffers an outage.
This "intelligent islanding" feature will enable power to be supplied to its customers using the microgrids’ local resources if the central power grid fails, for example, during a storm.
Such situations are more common for larger central power grids, because the risk of outages increase with the size of the power grid.
A microgrid is intelligent and automated – no human intervention is needed
Microgrids come with a controller system which automatically monitors and subsequently manages the microgrids’ resources and energy to achieve its customers’ pre-programmed goals, be it to realise the lowest prices, cleanest energy, greatest reliability, or others.
All microgrids come with the basic features of detection and switching to effectively separate itself from the central power grid (also known as “islanding”). However, an advanced controller (energy management system) can also track real-time changes in the power prices on the central grid to decide the optimum time to buy or sell its energy. It can also manage the status of its resources such as solar production and battery charge/discharge direction, and more.
The different types of microgrids
A remote microgrid is a self-contained energy system that operates independently from the main grid network as an isolated "island" at all times.
Remote microgrids, often referred to as off-grid microgrids, are used in remote locations that provide economic and environmental benefits by utilising renewable energy sources like solar or wind energy.
Battery energy storage systems (BESS) are a key consideration for remote microgrids for backup power because they can replace the expensive, noisy, polluting diesel generators.
Grid connected microgrids
A grid connected microgrid has a physical connection to the grid network but can disconnect and switch to "island mode" when required, such as in the case of emergency power backup.
Grid connected microgrids offer economic viability for schools, hospitals, military bases and important commercial or industrial buildings because it serves a relatively small geographic area and is effectively invisible to the user until it is needed.
Networked microgrids consist of distributed energy resources and/or microgrids that are connected to the same network grid to serve a wider geographical area.
This type of microgrid is very flexible in their architecture and is managed and optimised by an over-arching control system to coordinate each deployment depending on the need of the specific network application. The Smart Cities concept is a great example of networked microgrids.
What are the main benefits of microgrids?
Microgrids improve grid robustness, reliability and enhance resilience for core essential services.
During power outages, microgrid connected buildings are often the only powered "islands" in an area. Here are three main benefits of microgrids:
- Lower energy costs for consumers and businesses connected to microgrids by ensuring minimal usage from the grid and providing additional revenue streams by selling excess energy back to the grid.
- Improve the environment and promote clean energy as they are designed to be self-sufficient and use renewable energy sources to recharge the battery system.
- Strengthen the central power grid by offering their capacity as an asset to be utilized by the grid for other stabilization functions.
Microgrid technology is continually evolving to deliver a transformative vision of how energy can be reliably and efficiently distributed at a local and national level in a cost effective and decentralised way.
It is clear that distributed power is the way forward, especially when considering the cost benefits – some areas of our existing (but antiquated) power grids will cost millions to replace or transform to a "fit for purpose" standard.
At Trina Storage, we're excited to be at the forefront of sustainable microgrid technology that's changing the way communities, local authorities and businesses think about energy consumption and resilience, in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way.
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