Achieving a Sustainable, Reliable, and Clean Grid through the Use of Microgrids

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July 3, 2023


AI / Energy Storage / PERSPECTIVE / Renewable Energy / Solar energy


Achieving a Sustainable, Reliable, and Clean Grid through the Use of Microgrids

Microgrids are playing a critical role in the evolving power networks all across the globe. Microgrids can support existing grid infrastructure and, at the same time, add value by ensuring a reliable and uninterrupted supply of electricity, renewable energy integration, efficient energy balancing, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The model of microgrids is successfully implemented in various schemes such as island microgrids, community microgrids, military microgrids, campus microgrids, and industrial microgrids.

Electrical equipment manufacturers like Siemens Energy, General Electric (GE), ABB, and Schneider Electric are actively providing microgrid technologies and services. New startups like Microgrid Labs, Radicle, GridFlex Energy, etc. are also emerging to provide services of automation, operation, maintenance, data analytics, and cyber security aspects of microgrids. Here, a few distinct case studies are presented in which microgrids have proved sustainable and efficient.

Enhancing the sustainability of Data Centers

According to a recent study, data centers globally consumed 200 billion kWh of electricity in 2020, and a steady positive trend is expected in the future. Research indicates that total spending on global IT data centers is projected to reach almost $222 billion. By 2025, it is estimated that data centers will consume 25% of global energy.

Data centers are a challenge for the conventional grid because of high energy demand, reliability requirements, and ensuing power quality, particularly during peak hours. With microgrids, data centers can fulfill this emerging need for power supply with clean and renewable energy sources. By adding battery storage, data centers can save costs and manage load during peak and off-peak hours.

IT Giants like Microsoft and Amazon have introduced plans and investments to further expand microgrids for data centers. For example, Microsoft is developing RNG based microgrid for the data center in San Hose, California, in partnership with Enchanted Rock, California’s largest microgrid. By 2023, Microsoft plans to completely phase out dependence on diesel fuel for its data centers.

Amazon has recently inked a deal to develop five solar projects for renewable and sustainable power supply for AWS cloud data servers. This development will reduce the dependence of Amazon data centers on the central grid. The goal is to deploy microgrids, renewables, and battery storage for sustainable and clean power for AWS data centers.

Reducing the Impact of EVs and EV Charging Infrastructure on Grid

EVs are playing an active role in reducing GHG emissions across the globe. In 2020, EV registrations crossed the milestone of 1 million, representing a significant increase of 60% from the year 2019. With an increase in EVs, there is demand for EV infrastructure, and governments are responding positively. For sustainable growth and quick adoption of EVs, reliable charging infrastructure poses a challenge to existing aging grid infrastructure and has led to a challenge for grid operators to ensure the security of supply.

Energy companies, EV companies, and electric utilities are actively investing in demand-supply management using microgrids, focusing on e-mobility. In Riviera Beach, Florida, FPL has built a 5 MW microgrid consisting of a 7.5 MW solar power project, a 15 MWh battery solution to charge two mobile EV trailers of 650 kW / 1.3 MWh battery with 3 levels of EV chargers. Schneider Electric and the Carlyle Group have collaborated on a joint venture project in Montgomery County, Maryland, reflecting the synergy between microgrids and EV infrastructure. Using microgrids, this project electrifies the Brookville bus fleet of 45 all-electric buses.

Ensuring resilience during Natural Disasters

In the current wave of climate change, natural disasters are becoming a common phenomenon. Every year, natural disasters hit countries across the globe. In 2022, the U.S. experienced severe tornadoes in major cities like Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama. The U.S. also faced Hurricane Marco, Hurricane Laura, and Hurricane Isaias during the same period. Experts are forecasting that the frequency of such calamities will increase in the U.S., Europe, and other parts of the world, considering climate change and severe weather shifts. Microgrids can enhance the reliability of the electricity supply in case of blackouts due to natural disasters.

During such incidents, microgrids can ensure the reliability of electricity as a self-sustaining local grid. This communication network can remain intact, and rescue teams can plan rescue and emergency work more efficiently in disaster-hit areas.

Microgrids in California supported rescue teams and the local community during the 2019 wildfire events and heatwaves. Microgrids supported the local community with air conditioning load requirements, even in the case of grid outages. The utility 2.0 plan by PSEG Long Island proposed an investment of $76 million to develop electrical infrastructure in Rockaways, focusing on developing microgrids. New York announced NY Prize worth $40 million for encouraging entrepreneurs and communities to design microgrid projects.

Duck Curve Challenge for Electrical Grid and role of Microgrid

Governments are making a rapid shift towards sustainable sources of energy like wind, solar, battery storage technology, roof-top solar, etc., but the duck curve presents a challenge for electrical utilities in energy management strategies. The duck curve is a scenario of power imbalance due to a sudden rise in demand and a drop in the generation by renewables. In such cases, grid operators have to respond quickly by ramping up production from conventional sources of energy. Microgrids can be an alternative solution for large spikes in duck curves, in combination with battery storage, hydro potential, and hydrogen storage, thus controlling spikes, flattening curves, and filling valleys.

Microgrids play a major role in controlling the impacts of the duck curve in Hawaii, at Kauai Island. The local community has deployed a microgrid by incorporating renewable, battery storage, and load management strategies. Another example is in Australia, where microgrids are emerging rapidly, especially in northern territories, to tackle off-grid and on-grid load demand. Thus, we observe a reduction in the duck curve. The island of Ta‘ū in American Samoa has a microgrid that provides 100% renewable energy using solar panels and battery storage.

Way Forward:

In this era of the energy transition, utilities are shifting towards renewable energy sources in combination with energy storage solutions. The existing grid structure is vulnerable due to the rapidly changing energy mix and consumer behavior and the impacts of climate change. Microgrids are assisting in the sustainable, reliable, and efficient use of energy resources.

Microgrids are enabling market forces to innovate and present hardware and software solutions to effectively integrate renewables, storage solutions, and microgrid controllers onto the grid. Artificial intelligence, digitization, cyber security, automation, and energy management are central to this transition process.

Microgrids are enablers for tackling the challenges of the modern grid while also assisting in controlling the side effects due to high ingress of renewables like the duck curve and power outages due to weather events. In the future, government support for policymaking on microgrids will be very helpful in their widespread use and smooth implementation.

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