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Local technologies changing electricity systems

Fuel cells and microgrids belong together as partners in a mission to deliver reliable, cost-competitive and clean energy to communities ” so says a new report from US publisher Microgrid Knowledge, in partnership with US-based manufacturer FuelCell Energy (FCE). Partly due to concerns about the reliability of grid-supplied power to consumers, the two ” once futuristic ” technologies are winning a place within the increasingly decentralized US energy system.

We should probably add energy (electricity) storage to the list of decentralized energy technologies having a transformative effect on electricity systems in the US and elsewhere. And all three technologies are in growth mode.

Fuel cells and microgrids combine well, says the report, with the former providing reliable, round-the-clock local generation to the intelligent energy management and distribution services provided by the microgrid. And, in today’s digital age, that reliability is crucial. Faced with grid interruptions, microgrids with their own continuous generation capacity can disconnect and continue to supply important electrical loads. And continuous, yet clean, generation is a near-perfect complement to intermittent renewable generation such as that other fast-growing local generation technology ” solar PV.

The report quotes reports from Navigant Research which suggest that, worldwide, stationary fuel cells are in a strong growth trajectory, potentially expanding ten-fold in the next decade.

Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency’s solar PV programme (IEA PVP) reports that at least 303 GW of PV generation capacity are now installed worldwide, with 75 GW of new capacity added during 2016. The technology saw rapid development in China, America and India, while growth was slower in Japan, Europe and emerging countries.

The pace of change is nevertheless dramatic, says the IEA: ‘In a decade, PV has become a major source of electricity at an extremely rapid pace in several countries all over the world. The speed of its development stems from its unique ability to cover most market segments; from the very small individual systems for rural electrification to utility-size power plants.’ That proportion of PV that operates locally (ie all but the utility-scale PV ‘farms’), together with microgrids, fuel cells and electricity storage, are having a profound effect on electricity systems in the US and around the world.