Capable of powering anything from a small facility to an entire town, microgrids are distinctive in that they are capable of operating autonomously from the primary grid. This gives them the ability to keep places like hospitals, data centers and other critical services up and running, even when the main grid is out of commission.
These small local energy grids have full control capability and the ability to operate indefinitely — depending upon how they’re powered. Further, there are a wide variety of situations in which it makes sense to use a microgrid.
How Microgrids Work
The primary grid is built and managed by a local utility company to provide power to homes, businesses and other types of facilities. Because entire regions are dependent upon the main grid, large numbers of people — everyone connected to it — can be affected when it experiences a problem.
Microgrids generate their own power and are capable of operating separately of the main grid to keep the connected facilities suitably powered. They typically get their energy from batteries, generators, and increasingly, solar panels. Microgrids connect to the main grid at a point of common coupling, which keeps their voltage in balance with the rest of the system. When it is called upon to serve independently, a switch isolates the microgrid, which then functions on its own.
Health Care Facilities
Life must proceed apace, even when the local utility goes down. With microgrids, people tasked with managing healthcare facilities can better plan their energy usage. More than mere generators, microgrids are capable of integrating a healthcare facility’s power production with that of the local utility to ensure it always has the power it needs to serve patients, as cost effectively as possible.
Universities and Research Facilities
Academic institutions were some of the first entitles to recognize and employ microgrid technologies. Ongoing research projects can require continuous power, or else risk years of effort and the large sums of invested money. Universities often serve the greater community as places of refuge in large-scale disasters too. A microgrid, like those produced by Schneider Electric, keeps these places energized during power outages so the local populace can rely upon them.
Cities and Towns
With large-scale natural catastrophes becoming more prominent, many communities are coming to realize full dependence upon the central grid can sometimes leave them in the dark (so to speak). Community microgrids come online during these incidents to furnish power to critical services such as police and fire departments, communications towers and wastewater treatment plants. This ensures the ongoing functioning of those services so they can continue unabated while the primary grid is being repaired.
Peak demand periods can tax a utility company’s ability to provide reliable service. Incorporating strategically placed microgrids provides needed relief at a lower cost. To this end, many such companies are opting to build microgrids rather than expand their centralized infrastructures. In addition to the redundancy they provide, microgrids can be less expensive to produce.
Benefits are Many and Varied
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, microgrids offer improved energy efficiency, minimization of overall energy consumption, reduced environmental impact and improvement in the reliability of energy supply. There are also network operational benefits such as loss reduction, congestion relief, voltage control, and security of supply. Entities, both public and private, have also realized more cost-efficient electricity infrastructure replacement.
Having proven their value in these areas, microgrids are currently enjoying something of a boom period. State-of-the-art examples can be found all over the world, demonstrating when it makes sense to use a microgrid.