Microgrids and distributed power for system resilience

The immediate aftermath of several extreme weather events in the US may not be the best time to highlight the role that distributed generation and microgrids can play in keeping power supplies available, at least to some users, during interruptions to grid supplies.

But microturbine company Capstone has done just that ” reporting that most of its distributed generation installations operated straight through Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, much like they did with Hurricane Sandy back in 2012, with little or no downtime.
Hurricane Harvey meteorological view
The company says that the majority of its installations in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and the US Virgin Islands survived recent storms and remained fully operational to provide critical power, in some cases to pump water.

But local generation and microgrids can also help guard against wider power grid resilience issues. And the US electricity system itself must evolve to address a variety of challenges and opportunities, said the US Department of Energy (DOE) earlier this month.

The first of these challenges is severe weather, but DOE also lists the cyber threat; the changing mix of electricity generation methods; the ability for consumers to participate in electricity markets; the aging of electricity infrastructure; and even the growth of the ‘Internet of Things’.

DOE has announced awards of up to $50 million to support R&D of tools and technologies to improve the resilience of the country’s critical electricity infrastructure, as well as that for oil and natural gas.

For electricity, seven projects awarded through DOE’sà‚ Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortiumà‚ will develop and validate new approaches to enhance the resilience of distribution systems ” including microgrids ” with the increased use of clean distributed energy resources.

Texas’ own Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) is on the same page: ‘In light of our current situation, microgrids should be further deployed… particularly microgrids with CHP are being considered more often to increase the resilience of critical infrastructure, including hospitals, wastewater and water treatment plants, police and fire stations, data centers, emergency centers, etc.’

But take care in their design and siting, adds HARC: ‘To be resilient, these systems must be placed above predicted flood levels; have black start capability; must be able to operate independent from the grid; and have ample carrying capacity.’

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