The major intention for microgrids, small-scale power grids that can operate independently or in conjunction with an area’s main electrical grid, is that they can power themselves and operate independently in the case of an outage with the central grid. Recently, they have been thrust into the spotlight as a potential solution to add resiliency to the electric grid after major natural disasters—like Hurricane Maria last year and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Their capability to fully disconnect from the grid and operate independently, if needed, is alluring to those who seek to increase the resiliency of the electrical grid, but they are just one part of a multi-faceted solution to prevent future failures of the grid.
Microgrids are popping up across the U.S. and, outside of the U.S., they’re gaining more attention—particularly in developing countries where there might be no grid power and microgrids offer a safe and reliable alternative. In fact, a recent report from IDC indicates that “through 2020, emerging markets will offer the largest growth opportunity for microgrids, reducing the need for bulk transmission systems and creating new revenue streams for up to 25 percent of utilities worldwide in the form of microgrid as a service (MaaS).”
Regardless of location, a combination of microgrids, smart grid technologies, distributed generation resources and operational analytics and intelligence will help enhance the grid’s resiliency. Despite the many opportunities that microgrids present, they are only one piece to the puzzle of battling the shortcomings of the overall grid and future failures. There is a common misconception that microgrids alone can be substitutes for the larger electric grid. But ultimately, if a microgrid is serving more than one building, it’s relying on much of the same grid as we use today.
Instead, we must capitalize on the opportunities presented by microgrids by considering a combination of solutions—microgrids, smart grid technologies, distributed generation resources, and operational analytics and intelligence—working in harmony together. Integrating smart grid technologies, operational analytics and intelligence are critical to enhancing the effectiveness of the microgrid and providing visibility into these key areas.
It is clear that the popularity around microgrids will only continue to grow as concerns about overall grid resilience continue. Microgrids alone, however, are not the solution to the challenges facing the electric grid. Implementing analytics and intelligence solutions to enhance the viability of the microgrid will put us well on our way to a more resilient, efficient grid that can better safeguard against potential outages.