The rise of microgrids, while not inevitable, is a natural next step in the progression of smart grid technology. As automation, data collection and transport, and monitoring capabilities have grown into standard smart grid technologies, companies, military bases, small towns and even cities are tapping into the possibilities for self-sustaining microgrids.
What are Microgrids?
Microgrids are, essentially, self-contained local energy grids. In most instances, they are attached to the greater grid (macrogrid), but can disconnect if necessary for autonomous operation. In other scenarios, they are local grids powered by alternative energy means. For instance, according to a 2014 article from Navigant Research, Alaska leads the world in microgrid deployment due to the small communities that rely almost exclusively on local energy – in some cases, 100 percent renewable energy.
The viability of these kinds of energy distribution networks was not always apparent. For years, the United States has relied on a connected grid system that could be prone to huge shutdowns or security risks. As the technology has improved, microgrids that can disconnect from the macrogrid and function autonomously have opened huge possibilities for smart cities, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and more.
Smart Cities Powered by Microgrids
Smart cities rely strongly on the backbone of wireless technology. Imagine a scenario in which a city’s electricity grid went down, killing the wireless networks and effectively bringing any connected technology to a grinding halt. It could mean the shutdown of public transit, water and wastewater treatment facilities, electricity, vehicles, stoplights – the list can go on. Any IoT or IIoT systems would shut down.
However, with a smart city set up with a microgrid concept, if a part of the macrogrid went down, microgrids could disconnect and allow normal functionality without service shutdowns. If hackers or other security concerns hit the macrogrid, microgrids can disconnect and protect the system from further threat. And, in many cases, microgrid technology is driving the rise of alternative energy and energy independence.
Renewable Energy and Microgrids
One of the main problems facing renewable energy has always been storage. How can renewable energy sources create excess energy and store that energy for future use in case of macrogrid failure? What cities and small towns are finding out is that by building a renewable energy system connected to a microgrid, they can effectively develop net-zero communities that don’t have to rely on energy storage in the instance of macrogrid failure. As these technologies have matured and become implemented in different use-case examples, the possibility for more intricate and complex systems is apparent.
As the IIoT continues to adopt microgrid technologies and practices, industry practices will mature, creating greater efficiency both operationally and with regard to energy usage and distribution. The future of smart cities and a stronger connected infrastructure could be poised to accelerate along with the growth of microgrid applications.