GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE
MICROGRIDS

MICROGRIDS

Microgrids are localized power grids that operate in synchrony with, or independently from, the main grid. As such, they offer resilience against both physical and cyber disruptions. A variety of microgrid designs have been developed in recent years.

Some systems are integrated into the local grid and serve discrete communities like universities and corporate campuses, while other systems are “off grid” and operate autonomously in serving single buildings or energy domains. Thus, a microgrid is not characterized by its size, but rather by its functionality. Microgrids also open up opportunities for distributed energy sources, both conventional and renewable (solar and wind) as well as storage devices such as batteries.

Whilst still in their infancy, microgrids are poised to play a strategic role in the future landscape of electricity distribution. Early movers, such as the state of Connecticut in the US, have supported the development and deployment of microgrids through pilot funding programmes. The Connecticut DEEP Microgrid Pilot Program was launched with the intention of increasing grid resilience against extreme weather. The Wesleyan University microgrid – which was the first out of nine initially financed projects to become operational – is designed to power the entire campus in the event of a major outage.

DRIVERS OF MICROGRID DEVELOPMENT

SUSTAINABLE USE OF RESOURCES

Microgrids use local and often renewable energy sources to serve local demands. In so doing, they help to reduce the energy losses typical of large transmission and distribution networks.

DIGITALIZATION

The increased complexity of microgrid operations demands higher observability and controllability of various components within the microgrid, both under “off grid” operation and during the synchronization with the main grid. By providing components with digital sensors and sophisticated controls, operations can be monitored and optimized in order to improve performance and enhance quality of power supply.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Microgrids can guard against major grid disturbances – such as those wrought by Hurricane Sandy – by intentionally disconnecting from the main grid to form an island power system. In the wake of Sandy, large areas of the Eastern seaboard in the US were left without power, not due to direct storm damage, but rather to grid failures that occurred kilometres away and propagated through the system.

POLICY AND REGULATION

Owing to the benefits brought about by microgrids, we are seeing the progressive introduction of policy and regulatory incentives aimed at fostering their development and implementation. Public-private partnerships are also being established, for instance in Singapore, from where the first large-scale demonstration project of microgrids in Southeast Asia is being led.

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