The potential for microgrid technology is attracting attention from major corporates like General Electric, local and federal governments, and startups.
Microgrids are gaining attention for their potential resiliency as a distributed energy source. These smaller, independent grids can either operate independently or pull energy from a main grid, isolating themselves when necessary.
Right now, if an area is powered by a central grid and that grid gets wiped out — like the recent damage caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico — all of the homes, businesses, hospitals, and schools that are connected to it lose access to electricity.
However, if an island is supported by microgrids, it’s unlikely that a single disaster will wipe out as much access to electricity.
Microgrids are also important in stabilizing grid infrastructure. In 2017, the United States power grid received a D+ rating on infrastructure — but microgrids can redistribute loads, replace grids if they fail, and even act as batteries. In addition, for areas that do not have widespread or reliable access to energy sources, microgrids can serve as a potential solution.
That said, there are still notable challenges to making microgrids a more widespread energy source.
Microgrids that work independently of any central power structure are often expensive, hard to scale and deploy, and cost consumers significantly more than if they merely pulled from a central grid.
Those that connect to central grids but can isolate themselves when necessary can cause larger problems for grids, which aren’t built to manage distributed energy resources, or DERs. DERs encompass non-traditional energy generators that hook up to a grid in order to pull or add energy to it, including energy producers like solar panels, load-pulling devices like electric vehicles, and storage technologies.
Nonetheless, as communities brace for increased natural disasters and look to stabilize access to energy, the need for more flexible grid options has increased.
As a result, startups, companies, and governments are attempting to make microgrid usage more mainstream, and meet these challenges head on.
What type of energy do microgrids work with?
Many microgrids connect to central grids but all have the capability to disconnect and operate on their own. Like grids, they can pull energy from a diverse range of sources.