MICROGRID TECHNOLOGY PAVING THE WAY TOWARDS SMART CITIES
Not many utility customers know what a microgrid is let alone want them. A microgrid is a small scale power grid that can operate as a stand-alone, or in conjunction with an areas main power grid. The U.S. Department of Energy sees integrating microgrids into the grid nationwide will create smart cities. They believe the impact of this technology will improve reliability, create more flexibility and increase security of our nation’s electric power system.
Public utilities on the other hand, see microgrids as either a curse, or an opportunity. As a form of distributed energy, microgrids can draw away utility customers being an alternative power source. Some analysts fear this could lead to a business death spiral for the utility. Energy efficiency, the growth of distributed energy and other factors are diminishing the need for new power plants and transmission.
There is also the possibility of non-utility companies investing in and taking on an ownership roles in microgrids. However, the utilities should be the prime candidates. Microgrids can be a form of disruptive energy because… This can take away the utility’s stronghold on their current customer footprints unless they figure out a way to make the microgrid work for them.
As such, the relationship between utilities and microgrids can grow warmer. Several utilities have begun exploring, developing or marketing microgrids themselves. Among those utilities are American Electric Power, Commonwealth Edison, Dominion, Duke Energy, Green Mountain Power, National Grid, Oncor and Southern California Edison.
A recent “buzz” term is the talks about smart cities. But what is a smart city?
In short, a smart city would utilize digital technology and information to improve communications within a populace to enhance the quality and performance of services, reduce costs and increase efficiency. However, a smart cities won’t work without microgrids. A smart city would include multiple microgrids, interconnected with the distribution system.
This is a big reason the DOE has made microgrids a priority since 2011. A key to integrating microgrids with other smart technologies is a microgrid controller. Several federal research labs are currently working on microgrid research and development. A smart city would be fully managed through a microgrid controller.
Microgrids are often viewed by the public as a collection of small power plants serving a small area of customers. While the wind turbines and solar panels may be what is most recognizable, it is the microgrid controller that makes the microgrid run.
Microgrids began to garner interest after Hurricane Sandy, due to their ability to keep power flowing in a crisis to hospitals and fire departments. Now microgrids are showing they can make the overall energy grid function better. Microgrids can balance demand with sources and integrate renewables with other forms of distributed energy.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There are a handful of cities in the U.S. like Chicago and Seattle that are following the blueprint of some of the more successful European cities such as Helsinki and Copenhagen who have been at the forefront of smart technologies. The Department of Energy believes advanced microgrids will enhance efficiency and the use of renewables. This will not only advance our quest towards smart cities but also provide a much needed relief to our electric power system that is crumbling due to lack of investment over the past 50 years.
This will not only improve America’s electric infrastructure but also help to keep us at the forefront of technological advances that will improve our everyday lives.
Matt Helland Senior Vice President — North American Energy Advisory
Originally published at northamericanenergyadvisory.com on October 21, 2015.