Recently, the Association for Demand Response and Smart Grid’s National Town Meeting in Washington, DC, brought together a variety of players including utilities, policymakers, software developers, and energy writers. The three-day conference kicked off with presentations and group discussions on the hotly debated topic of microgrids.
What is a microgrid?
There is no established definition but General MicroGrids, a designer and provider of microgrid models, defines it as a discrete energy system consisting of distributed energy sources (including demand management, storage, and generation) and loads capable of operating in parallel with, or independently from, the main power grid.
Boiling it down even more, General MicroGrids describes microgrids as “smaller versions of the traditional power grid.”
No matter the definition, there are a number of factors driving interest in microgrids, including the desire for increased reliability, especially for institutions such as the military, and local self-reliance. For example, when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, it knocked out power to 8 million customers and caused $50 billion in damages in the U.S. However, microgrid customers, such as Princeton University, were able to maintain power for essential operations, by disconnecting from the larger grid, according to EnergyEfficiencyMarkets.com’s new microgrid report (available for download here).
Another reason for the increasing interest in microgrids is their ability to make efficient use of clean, renewable energy sources like solar and wind. I was surprised at the level of integration of renewables in microgrid systems
Microgrids, however, do have naysayers, including some utilities that worry that microgrids pose a threat to the reliability of the grid. They also wonder what costs they might incur to provide back-up power when microgrid equipment fails.
Despite the concerns, microgrid support is expected to grow. As Ann Berwick, Chair of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, said in an interview in EnergyEfficiencyMarkets.com’s microgrid report, utilities will need to keep up or “somebody is going to supplant them.”
A future blog post will focus on communications strategies businesses can use to reach potential customers.