“Microgrid Deployment” Seminar Re-Cap
Sam Booth and Ian Baring-Gould from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shared their expertise on “Microgrid Deployment: Overview of NREL project experience, lessons, and tools” with a full classroom at the Powerhouse Energy Campus last week. The two began by outlining how access to energy and electricity is about more than turning on the lights. They said that electricity can improve a countries GDP, and more importantly it can improve residents’ life expectancy. “Energy is an enabler, but not the end goal,” explained Baring-Gould.
NREL has been supporting deployment of microgrids and off-grid power systems for over 25 years and has domestic and international experience. According to NREL, one of the challenges in electrifying rural communities abroad and in the United States with microgrids is that there is no set “Quality Assurance Framework.”
This means that sometimes microgrids are built, but end up being unable to serve a community’s growing needs or unable to function for their intended time period or within the regions specific requirements, as in the instance of one in the Galapagos. These challenges also make investors who are used to pouring hundreds of millions into large scale projects less interested in making the million dollar investment needed to bring a one-off microgrid to a community. Baring-Gould has developed a microgrid-specific Quality Assurance Framework to ensure that when microgrids are employed they are ready to be scaled-up, attractive to investors, and able to be maintained.
Despite the challenge of a lack of government investment in microgrids, there are still ways to ensure microgrids are funded by showing their affordability to customers, their availability, reliability and consistent power quality. One option Booth and Baring-Gould touched on was the use of affordable thermal imaging cameras (around $400) to scan batteries and give microdgrid operators and potential investors access to information about how quickly batteries are being used, which ones need to be replaced etc. This is just one example of a best practice that can be used in microgrid deployment.
Booth shared key examples of microgrid projects around the world with some region-specific considerations. In Indonesia, for instance, microgrids can be created using a hybrid of energy sources from a mix of palm oil, battery and Solar PV. In Haiti, where most of the energy is used for cooking at night, batteries make more sense.
Regardless of the energy source, microgrid projects needs to be able to scale up as a community’s energy needs grow and change. In Alaska, this trend can clearly be seen, and it is Booth’s belief that that trend will be the same in communities around the globe.