A microgrid is a power grid on a small scale that can power up surrounding buildings in a neighborhood or community.
Microgrids are not a new invention, and with the help of new technology and sustainable resources, there are a few different varieties, which we’ll discuss. The microgrid was first introduced in 1882 by Thomas Edison at his Manhattan Pearl Street Station, which produced electricity and thermal energy via coal-fired steam. His system was small and localized, distributing power to the surrounding area and even contained batteries to store power which, on the whole, matches the definition of a microgrid today.
We’ve seen a rise in blackouts over the last few years due to severe weather, animal interactions, and much more, especially in the U.S. A microgrid is a potential solution to power outages, fossil fuel burning, and rising energy prices.
So what are microgrids and how can they help our community?
What is a microgrid?
A microgrid is a localized and decentralized energy grid that can work in conjunction with the main grid and also disconnect and operate by itself.
Historically, microgrid energy has been produced using fossil fuels, particularly in Edison’s Pearl Street Station or for university campuses in the U.S. Yet with the rise of cheaper and more accessible renewable energy sources, linking sustainable energy sources like solar panels, wind turbines, and natural gas generators to microgrids is more attainable than ever.
They can be installed as a type of insurance policy for customers if they are connected to the main grid, in that they provide a safety net for when there’s a blackout.
A microgrid definition by The Department of Energy (DOE) is “a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island mode.”
How do microgrids work?
Microgrids work with a generation source and are usually connected to the main grid, although they can work independently off the grid as a stand-alone power source, especially for remote communities that may not have access to any power at all. They provide local power to homes, businesses, and facilities such as schools and hospitals.
A well-designed microgrid provides power from renewable resources such as solar PV and wind, with the help of autonomous intelligent software and energy storage from batteries. Microgrids are low maintenance as they don’t need a lot of human operation. This is due to their smart controller ‘brain’ that operates the entire system, which we’ll talk a little more about below.
A microgrid is an ideal power source for when there’s a blackout because it can disconnect from the main power grid. This ‘islanding’ ingenuity allows it to still provide power to its customers if a power outage has occurred due to, for instance, high winds, a pesky squirrel gnawing at the cables, or a storm, affecting the main grid.
A microgrid is made up of a few components. In the center is the microgrid controller. As it is software, the controller can regulate and manage energy supply independently, without human interaction, to meet customer demand. Customers may want lower energy prices, clean energy, more reliable and consistent power, or anything else. A microgrid controller is intelligent enough to adapt itself to these needs.
For example, it can keep a track of fluctuating electricity prices and discharge itself from the main grid and use its own supply from, say, solar panels to keep energy prices low.
Generation sources/supply assets
Solar panels, wind turbines, and fuel-burning generators connect to a microgrid to produce electricity. These can be used on a big scale in a town or village, or on a much smaller scale in a backyard. Microgrids are diverse in that they can run entirely on solar energy or perhaps a mixture of wind and fossil fuel burning.
Batteries attached to microgrids can be used to stow away electricity in the event of a power outage or raise in energy price. If the prices are high, microgrids can sell power back to the main grid and when low, power is stored in the batteries. Some even have electric vehicle charging stations, which makes microgrids a compelling solution for the future as we move towards utilizing electric cars.
What is an OATI microgrid?
Open Access Technology International (OATI) Microgrid Technology Center is a data center company in Minneapolis that licenses software to energy utilities.
OATI has developed an incredible state-of-the-art microgrid in a multi-story office building and data center which is a mecca for renewable energy. It houses solar panels, rooftop wind turbines, and a natural gas turbine to create renewable power.
When compared to a standard microgrid the OATI microgrid doesn’t just serve as a backup – it is the grid. It produces power 24 hours a day.
The building houses a 600-kilowatt natural gas-fired microturbine that generates a system that simultaneously creates electricity and thermal energy for heating and cooling. The site also has solar panels that produce up to 180-kilowatts of charge; wind turbines with a capacity of 24 kilowatts of energy; and for backup a diesel-powered generator that produces a massive 1500-kilowatts of power.
The OATI microgrid offers customers fixed prices for their energy usage and produces several days of power during a blackout for the whole building and several other buildings in the surrounding neighborhood.
What is a solar microgrid?
A solar microgrid is a renewable network that, like a standard microgrid, can work independently off the main grid or work in unison with the main grid. It can distribute green energy to an entire town or community by acquiring solar power from solar panels and utilizing batteries to store the energy in a ‘hub’ in the event of a power outage.
Clean energy microgrids like solar microgrids are a clean and efficient solution for the environment, either by running completely on solar power or by using a combination of fossil fuel and solar power in an effort to decrease pollution and harm to the environment.
Pros and cons of microgrids
There are a few advantages and disadvantages of microgrids. We’ll first have a look at their pros.
Pros of microgrids
Provides low-cost energy using smart technology
The microgrid controller controls everything in the system – batteries, energy sources, generators, and building systems. Increasing or decreasing resources within the network works to lower electricity bills.
Cables connected to a power plant deliver power from afar and consequently, between 8% to 15% of power is lost in transit. By using a microgrid, less power is lost along the way as they transmit power using shorter cables. Additionally, microgrid cables are less vulnerable to power outages.
Can provide power during a blackout
In the event of a power outage, a microgrid can detach and ‘island’ itself from the main source and continue to provide communities and neighborhoods energy by using its own emergency supply.
Accessible renewable energy
As stated above, a microgrid, including an OATI microgrid and solar microgrid, can all run off sustainable energy sources such as wind, solar, natural gas, etc.
Cheaper to set up
Whereas a power plant is expensive and timely to build, a microgrid can easily be set up and built with less capital cost, higher capacity, and more reliability.
Cons of microgrids
Protecting data is a huge hurdle when installing microgrids. A microgrid collects customer data to improve performance. Cybersecurity regulations are still somewhat relaxed, but that is changing. On May 25, 2018, the General Data and Protection Regulation was put in place in the UK and Europe to shift the way in which companies have to protect employee data.
Utility companies resist the idea
Microgrids can be a threat to utility companies as it confronts their formula for providing energy, meaning they can sometimes try to stop microgrids from being installed.
The DELTA Series – a mini microgrid of sorts?
If your interest in microgrids has piqued, Ecoflow has a solution to your backup needs. With the Ecoflow DELTA series and a suite of add-ons, you can literally create your own mini microgrid of sorts.
Power to suit everyone
To begin your Ecoflow journey, consider how much power you need for your home space. The DELTA series comes in a range of capacities, from DELTA mini all the way up to the DELTA pro. You can choose which unit best suits you, à la Goldilocks when she chooses her required amenities from the three bears.
Next consider a renewable energy source, like Ecoflow portable solar panels. These connect to a DELTA power station to provide your home power with renewable energy collected from the sun, and in turn, save you dollars from your electricity bills or equip you with power for when there’s a blackout.
To link up reliable, self-sufficient, clean energy to your wall outlets, lighting, and other fixtures you can use the smart home panel in tandem with a DELTA pro power station. Like a microgrid controller, you can also use the Ecoflow app to control, regulate and monitor your home energy usage which helps you avoid peak rates.
Microgrids have seen a complete overhaul since they were first invented with the use of sustainable energy resources and smarter technology. They offer a fantastic solution in the future to powering up communities in the hopes of reducing damage to the environment for guilt-free power and lowering the risk of power cutouts. Ecoflow can help you set up your own at-home ecosystem which works similar to a microgrid so that you can harness off-the-grid power in the event of a blackout, the clean way.