Overview of Microgrid Developments in the United States and Canada
Microgrids are presenting themselves as a promising alternative to promote security, reliability, and affordability in the energy sector across the world, but they are more common in North America than other regions. They provide alternative decentralized energy generation and storage. They mitigate the volatility of local grids by reducing reliance on certain generation sources and enabling flexibility in managing power demand.
The microgrid concept provides grid owners with the ability to isolate distributed resources from utility networks while at the same time ensuring they can get an uninterrupted supply of electricity when needed. They can include solar, wind, and battery storage systems, electric vehicles, and smart appliances.
Development of microgrids in the U.S:
According to a recent report, in the U.S., the market capacity of microgrids reached 10 GW in 2022, and 7 GW of microgrid capacity is in the planning phase. Compared to 2017, the U.S. market for microgrids has grown by 47% in 2022. Utilities, startups, and project developers are now looking towards microgrids as a reliable backup solution for frequent grid outages in the U.S. due to natural weather conditions. Innovative business models like turnkey microgrid-as-a-service (MaaS) are attracting investments in the microgrid sector.
The Nevada utility distribution resource planning (DRP) has successfully contributed to developing microgrids in the region. Recently, NV Energy announced that they are developing a 543 MWh battery storage system in collaboration with Energy Vault and BYD.
In November 2022, Alliant Energy successfully commissioned a microgrid in the small village of Boaz, Wisconsin. This is part of Alliant Energy’s research project to analyze the practical implementation of microgrids. To achieve net zero, the utility company is rapidly moving towards the integration of renewables and energy storage technologies. They will play a key role in this transition phase.
San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) has announced plans to develop microgrids to strengthen the central grid and avoid electricity outages during frequent outage events. The utility has announced a 10 MW microgrid battery storage project in Tierrasanta and has initiated testing of a 40 MW energy storage project in Fallbrook. SDG&E has a 95 MW installed battery storage capacity already and are planning to invest in an additional 200 MW battery storage. This shift towards renewable energy storage will further increase the importance of microgrid development in California and other parts of the U.S.
Advancing Microgrid Technologies for Grid Resilience
California is putting special emphasis on microgrid development with battery storage capacity. SDG&E and Sumitomo Electric (SEI) successfully commissioned a net-zero microgrid with a 2 MW/8 MWh Vanadium Redox Flow (VRF) battery storage facility. During the test run, this microgrid was able to power 66 residential and commercial facilities with a backup of around 5 hours.
Bronzeville community microgrid is a project that is developed by ComEd. The project started with a $4 million grant from the US Department of Energy (DoE), and by the start of Jan 2022, this project was ready to serve the local community. Such microgrid projects and many more, all across the U.S., are improving the power system reliability and security, providing backup in case of a grid outage, and helping develop and incorporate renewable and battery storage in the existing system.
The U.S. power grid is very complex, and many advanced microgrid technologies are emerging based on consumer requirements and up-to-date technology. For example, LS Energy Solutions is collaborating with Ameresco to develop AiON-ESSTM energy storage-based technology in Fort Detrick, Maryland. This project will enhance the reliability of electricity supply of Fort Detrick Army Garrison and provide backup during grid outage events.
Advancements in U.S. Microgrid Technology and Software Solutions
In Pennsylvania, ESS Inc. recently completed installing and commissioning a microgrid, which will be integrated with a 115 kW solar array. This microgrid will provide a backup for a company called Sycamore International. ESS Inc. has incorporated 12 hours of battery backup in this microgrid for residential and commercial consumers, thus enhancing the flexibility and reliability of the local grid.
In the U.S., software companies are playing an active role in enhancing the functionalities of microgrids and DERs. The California-based software company, Xendee, is leading the way in designing reliable and resilient microgrids for optimized operation. Xendee is merging network-based technology with microgrids, thus enabling microgrids to interconnect with 25 different traditional, renewable, and battery storage solutions.
In the U.S., due to climate change and extreme weather events, the reliability of the power network is the key focus of the U.S. DoE. DoE is actively investing in the research, development, and deployment of advanced microgrids in conjunction with DERs and innovative control and management systems. Investments in battery storage solutions and solar and wind power projects are further enhancing the efficiency of microgrids in the U.S.
Development of microgrids in Canada:
Climate change events, renewable integration, and grid challenges drive massive investments in Canada. BMT Canada Ltd. develops a microgrid pilot integrating tidal energy for their Ocean Energy Smart Grid Integration Project.
They provide reliable energy supply for Canadians. A study showed 30% fuel reduction in a remote First Nations community after implementing models.
Gull Bay Project showcases microgrid application in Canada’s power grid. Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and KZA deployed a fully integrated system with solar and battery storage. It supports the indigenous community amidst extreme temperatures (as low as -45°C).
Transforming Ontario’s Energy Landscape
Another success story comes from Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada. A 700 kW solar power project provides clean, renewable energy in the region. With the additional support of a 600 kWh energy storage system, it can handle grid outages and keep the local system in operation.
Utility companies, investors, and tech firms collaborate effectively. For instance, a partnership between Elexicon Energy, Marshall Homes, and Opus One seeks investment from IESO and the Ontario government to develop a net-zero solution. This includes creating 45,000 new residential buildings annually, supported by a combination of energy storage, hydroelectric, and solar power. Elexicon Energy, with GridOS from Opus One, will ensure a sustainable transition towards renewables.
Microgrids combine renewable or non-renewable energy sources, with or without battery storage and help deploy a decentralized, stable local grid in case of outages. They are being used to power critical infrastructure around the U.S. and Canada. The complexity and aging infrastructure of the central grid, combined with threats such as natural disasters, cyberattacks, and physical hazards, have made the grids in these regions highly vulnerable. They offer a modular solution to grid reliability and resilience. Both regions have deployed them to enable themselves to be more self-sufficient, and improve power quality and reliability, thus increasing grid resilience and lowering emissions.