Here are seven ways in which microgrids can help deliver the clean and reliable energy we need in the future.
A Microgrid is a group of energy sources located in the same local area that is in turn connected into the national grid while also being able to disconnect from it and operate independently, for example in the event of an electricity outage. Microgrids usually consist of distributed generation sources, particularly renewable energy generators such as solar panels and wind turbines, usually accompanied by some form of energy storage device, invariably a battery or bank of batteries. While it can function by exporting energy into the national grid it is controlled locally by the community, for example by a local community energy group or cooperative.
Microgrids are usually established in one of two distinct forms. The first of these is a microgrid that is located entirely one specific site, probably controlled by a utility customer (hence the term customer microgrid) and the second type is a microgrid formed from a segment of the regulated grid, incorporating a number of technologies situated at different locations.
As the world moves towards renewable energy generation and acts to counter climate change, microgrids offer a range of benefits which can provide assistance both locally and nationally in terms of the environmental benefits, economic advantages and increased efficiency. In fact, some countries are helping this process by establishing organizations that act as an interface between communities and businesses interested in establishing microgrids and related government departments. Here are seven ways in which microgrids can help deliver the clean and reliable energy we need in the future.
Improving local energy delivery
Most microgrids are developed using an initial design or plan that sets out how local energy is going to be delivered to the community. The organization0 developing the plan could be a city administration, an academic institution, a business park or a community energy group. The plan will set a number of objectives and identify which locations are best suited to realizing those objectives. It will also set out how to assess the suitability of these locations and what may be needed in terms of financing and resources in order to construct and/or install the necessary infrastructure. Some academic institutions such as MIT are actively involved in researching microgrid design, for example by helping to produce and develop microgrid planning tools.
The microgrid acts as a way in which the local community or organization becomes actively involved with energy generation and involves the installation of a particular technology or set of technologies in a building or range of buildings. Very often these will be renewable energy technologies such as solar panels, perhaps a roof-mounted wind turbine, a biomass boiler, various energy efficiency devices or ground or air source heat pumps. This, in turn, brings economic and environmental benefits such as reduced carbon emissions or increased savings on energy bills.
Local control of the microgrid means that there is more choice with regard to what energy generating technologies are used. This means there is more opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of buildings included in the microgrid, reducing carbon emissions and lowering costs.
Microgrids can help to guard against power outages [Image Source: Lisa Williams, Flickr]