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Brainstorm: Microgrids

Microgrids allow local customers to take control of their own energy systems, providing technology tools to reduce dependence on centralized utility systems that are inherently vulnerable to many types of threats – from bad weather to terrorism.

Most microgrids are designed and operated for the purpose of ensuring resilient energy supplies for a defined set of customers. Accordingly, microgrids can help mitigate grid disturbances by maintaining energy supplies for critical facilities and services. Community microgrids, for example, can ensure continued operation of first-response facilities, hospitals, public shelters, and even grocery stores and gas stations during extended outages.

Microgrids can maintain both thermal and electric energy supplies, strengthening overall resilience rather than just resilient electricity supplies. Additionally, if they are designed and deployed properly, microgrids can be used to help maintain grid stability by responding to utilities’ or system operators’ calls for demand response or generation supplies. Advanced microgrid control systems allow coordinated control of many energy resources, allowing for virtual power plant capabilities and ancillary services that utilities can use to improve power quality and reliability.

Microgrids advance the nation’s energy system in several ways. Most notably, microgrids offer new technology and service choices for customers. Microgrids are designed and operated to meet the specific needs of specific customers – as contrasted with the utility grid, which is designed to deliver a generic service to all ratepayers. Microgrids make it possible for communities to tap into local energy resources to achieve multiple benefits, such as strengthened resilience, greater reliance on local renewable energy, and retaining energy dollars in the local economy.

By optimizing energy consumption to match available local resources, microgrids can reduce customers’ overall energy costs and environmental footprint. Additionally, microgrid control systems advance the state-of-the-art in smart grid technology, allowing balanced operation of smaller and smaller energy systems with variable resources. Microgrid control technologies ultimately could revolutionize the integrated utility grid by allowing intelligent management of a fractal self-healing architecture.

Microgrids are a fundamental component in enabling today’s electricity grid modernization to address growing demand, distributed generation, and environmental pressures. Electricity grids will host “constellations of microgrids,” enabling peer to peer energy transactions between them through the new possibilities of state-of-the-art information and communications technology (ICT).

With distributed energy resources expanding at grid edge, microgrid coordination requires communication to become multi-dimensional, with information flowing among a subset of microgrid devices enabling distributed energy.

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