Energy resilient communities that are looking for expansive, stable and consistant supply of power are influencing the rising growth and demand for microgrids. Utilities are increasingly unable to provide that “always-on” power that consumers are looking for in today’s modern world.
Those were the two key points discussed at the Renewable Energy World Conference, North America session titled Microgrids: Opportunities, Challenges, and Innovative Solutions held during December 2014.
As explained by John M. Caroll from IPERC, the demand for microgrids makes much sense, as the power outages experienced are happening more often and is looking to increase in the future. As such, many consumers are looking for alternative options for a never-ending supply of power.
Microgrids seen as the way forward for reliable energy
Such consumers would include fire and emergency services serving critical roles in the community, military bases who cannot afford to be without power due to security reasons and even biotechnology centres as they have to keep on their refrigeration systems and freezers at all times.
Businesses such as these wanted to have a back-up power plan but didn’t want to fork out extra money on that backup system, as a result, and due to way renewable energy increases the use of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), there are new understandings regarding the ownership of microgrids and who has to pay for them.
When the grid fails, renewables such as solar PV are taken off so as not to back feed into the grid which would cause safety issues for workers, but with microgrids (assuming the correct controllers are put in place), this is no longer needed.
Energy stability & security increasingly valuable across major industries
SPIDERS were another project expanded upon by Carroll. This program is intended to create smart power infrastructure demonstration for energy stability and security to be used by military bases, such as Camp Smith in Hawaii. This base will be nearly net zero and seen as an island during 2015. A main point of focus for the SPIDERS project is cyber defence.
The technology behind the mechanics of a microgrid and how they impact the electric network of a utility is explained further by John Dirkman of Schneider Electric. He maintains that the impact is not merely financial (even though it does have an impact on revenue) it’s also technological.
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When microgrids are connected to a network, the utilities must contend with reverse power flow as well as brand new voltage profiles, which add difficulty into an already complex system. Mr Dirkman demonstrated how an advanced DMS provide network automation FLISR, VVO, SCADA, outage management, energy management and demand side management including load forecasting and demand response.
Furthermore, he stated to those attending, the utilities expect transformation to take place within the energy mix. This is according to a survey of utility executives, 80% of American utilities understand that their energy markets will be made up of a mix including central generation and distributed generation assets by 2030.
Standard Solar builds the first commercial grid-interactive microgrids
Standard Solar took part in a Maryland microgrid which utilizes 402.3 kW of Solar PV Capacity, employing 200kWh of lithium-ion energy. C.J. Colavito from Standard Solar gave a presentation of 8 lessons learnt from building this first commercial grid-interactive microgrids using solar and energy storage in America.
The system contains a 250kW inverter by Princeton Power, as well as EV charging stations. Colavito maintains the importance of having clear cut and consistent open communication with all shareholders of a microgrid project, which means meeting with the utility face-to-face in order to begin working together.
“It’s important to have a document sequence of operations as well as equipment layout ideas when creating such a project. Evaluations of the total load as well as selecting backup loads early on are crucial first steps”. Mr Colavito also reminded those attending that management of client expectations is a key part in creating a successful grid-interactive microgrids.
Photo by: Atom Malchick on Flickr