Consumers who need resilient, reliable, “always-on” power that the utility can’t deliver are driving the growth of microgrids in the US.

In addition, renewable energy and energy storage technologies are becoming essential components of microgrids. These were two of the many issues discussed during Wednesday’s Renewable Energy World Conference, North America session titled Microgrids: Opportunities, Challenges, and Innovative Solutions.

Renewable Energy World’s Jennifer Runyon reported on the conference and a parallel survey of utility executives, which showed that more than 80 per cent of North American utilities expect their energy markets to be made up of a mix of large central generation and distributed generation assets by 2030.

John M. Carroll of IPERC explained to delegates that the case for microgrids is quite simple. He said that power outages are on the rise and expected to increase over the years and there are customers “up and down the east coast” who simply can’t afford to lose electricity. These include customers such as biotechnology research centers that must maintain refrigeration or freezers; fire and emergency service centres serving critical roles; and military bases that due to security implications cannot be without power.

In the past, these enterprises wanted backup power but didn’t want to pay for it, but Carroll said that because of the way that renewables have increased the use of PPAs, now there are new ways to view who owns microgrids and how to pay for them.
Microgrid concept
Traditionally when the grid goes down, renewables such as PV are taken offline so they don’t backfeed the grid and cause safety issues for line workers. With a microgrid and the right controllers in place, that’s no longer necessary.

Meanwhile REW also heard C.J. Colavito of Standard Solar present eight lessons learned from building one of the first commercial grid-interactive microgrids with solar and energy storage in North America. Standard Solar was involved in a Maryland microgrid that uses 402.3 kW of solar PV capacity and employs 300 kWh of lithium-ion energy storage. The system also has a 250-kW inverter from Princeton Power. The microgrid includes EV charging stations.

Colavito emphasized how important it is to have clear and consistent communication with all of the stakeholders in a microgrid project, including meeting with the utility face-to-face at the start of the project.  In addition, he said when creating a project like this you need to document a sequence of operations and consider equipment layout carefully.  He said it is also important to evaluate the total load and select your backup loads early. 

Finally, Colavito reminded attendees that managing customer expectations are also a key component to creating a successful grid-interactive microgrid.