Today’s residential and business sectors have never been more dependent on the reliable flow of electricity. From consumers demanding instantaneous internet connectivity—both at home and on-the-go— to the vast majority of businesses both large and small relying on uninterrupted electric power, electricity is critical to keep operations running, communications intact, and more.
However, while electricity is key to much of daily life, numerous developments have recently put a strain on the electric grid and stand to impede the continuous and reliable flow of electricity. Some of the factors that have led to issues of both resiliency and sustainability for electric users include:
- the ever-expanding electricity demands of a growing population
- the increased frequency of powerful storms and other natural disasters that cause power outages and damage utility assets
- aging grid infrastructure that drives inefficiencies and power quality losses
One solution that could offer a win-win solution to these dilemmas is the emergence of microgrid technologies.
Benefitting From Self-Sufficient Energy Systems
According to industry sources Microgrid Knowledge and the U.S. Department of Energy, microgrids are self-sufficient energy systems that support a defined community of users. Such communities could be a university campus, a hospital, a corporate center, or a residential neighborhood.
Typically driven or supported by solar power, wind turbines, battery energy storage systems (BESS), generators, fuel cells, and other renewable energy sources, microgrids can operate independently from the main electric grid if needed. Essentially, the microgrid becomes an energy “island” that’s impervious to power disruptions experienced by the main grid. At the same time, microgrid use of local generation reduces power losses that are inherent in the traditional long-distance transmission and distribution (T&D) of electricity. For example, across the United States’ nearly six million miles of T&D lines, losses can be up to 15% and some European Union countries experience up to 17% power losses.
Through sophisticated software, microgrids can also be “intelligent” in terms of their ability to optimize use of multiple energy resources to achieve any of a number of specific goals. Common goals include securing the least expensive energy (perhaps by purchasing energy from the main grid if that’s the cheapest source on a particular day), producing the greenest energy or the most reliable supply, as well as other objectives.
A Solution of Choice
Based on these powerful capabilities and benefits, microgrid technologies have been the solution of choice for a range of critical projects.
For example, energy infrastructure provider AlphaStruxure recently announced its plan to create and operate an 11.34 MW microgrid that will transform JFK International Airport’s new terminal into “the first fully resilient airport transit hub in the New York region that can function off-grid during power disruptions.”
Back in 2011, a hurricane and snowstorm knocked out power to 750,000 area homes in Hartford, Connecticut for nearly two weeks. But thanks to a microgrid recently built by the city of Hartford, power now reliably flows to a number of the city’s most critical and life-sustaining environments, including a healthcare facility, school, gas station, and grocery store.
Similar microgrids built in the past five to ten years are helping to sustain operations at college campuses including Princeton University in New Jersey and New York University in Manhattan, as well as at Co-Op City, a housing development that’s home to over 50,000 residents in The Bronx, New York. Additionally, Microsoft recently announced its intention to build a new data center microgrid in San Jose, California.
International examples include planned microgrids at The Royal Mint in Wales and the Chub Cay Resort Marina in The Bahamas. The World Bank also plans to fund six microgrid projects in rural Nigeria.
According to Annette Clayton, CEO of Schneider Electric North America, the organization which will be providing microgrid technology, software, and services to AlphaStruxure’s microgrid installation at JFK Airport, “microgrids solve two of the most serious challenges — resilience and decarbonization — with a single solution.”
Get Up to Speed on Microgrid Technologies
Whether you’re a city planner, an energy service provider, operate a mission-critical facility that’s reliant on the continuous flow of electricity, or are a savvy energy user or professional, it behooves you to learn more about the operation, benefits, and inner workings of microgrids.
The IEEE Academy on Smart Grid Microgrids offers a solid overview of microgrid technologies and their integration with renewable energy sources and energy management systems. Upon completing this five-hour online training, learners will gain a better understanding of the latest trends, technologies, solutions, and applications for microgrids. Learners will also explore the benefits, challenges, best practices, and insights related to microgrid modeling, analysis, protection, and control.
For more information or to enroll in this program, please visit the IEEE Learning Network (ILN)
Office of Electricity. The Role of Microgrids in Helping to Advance the Nation’s Energy System. U.S. Department of Energy.
Wood, Elisa. (28 March 2020). What is a Microgrid?. Microgrid Knowledge.
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Innovation & Policy: Energy Efficiency. T&D Europe.
AlphaStruxure to Design, Construct, and Operate JFK’s New Terminal One Microgrid, Creating the Largest Rooftop Terminal Solar Array in the U.S. (26 January 2023). AlphaStruxure/PR Newswire.
Gies, Erica. (4 December 2017). Microgrids Keep These Cities Running When the Power Goes Out. Inside Climate News.
Wood, Elisa. (15 June 2022). Enchanted Rock to Build California’s Largest RNG Microgrid for Microsoft. Microgrid Knowledge.
Wood, Elisa. (11 January 2022). 22 intriguing microgrid projects to watch in 2022. Microgrid Knowledge.