What’s The Buzz About Modern Microgrids?
Your Must-Know Primer on the Basics
In an era of advancing energy technologies and evolving power grids, the modern microgrid has emerged as a significant player in the realm of energy infrastructure. But what exactly is a modern microgrid, and why should you be well-versed in the intricacies of this distributed energy system?
By understanding how the modern microgrid works, you can better navigate the changing energy sector, address energy challenges, and capitalize on the opportunities they present.
Why EPCs Can’t Afford to Ignore the Rise of Microgrids
Much like the name implies, a microgrid is essentially a smaller, localized version of the central electrical grid. But that basic definition belies the wide range of functionality and benefits the modern microgrid can provide.
Although the saying, “If you’ve seen one microgrid, you’ve seen one microgrid,” remains true since no two are exactly the same, microgrids do share a few common characteristics.
- One or more types of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs): A microgrid consists of interconnected DERs operating as a single controllable entity. DERs include energy generation assets, like solar panels, turbines, or generators, integrated with energy storage systems like batteries and the electrical loads serviced by these assets, such as a commercial and industrial (C&I) facility or an electric vehicle (EV) charging station.
- Localized installation: Microgrids are designed to provide energy to a specific location for nearby customers with defined consumption rates. This localization significantly reduces the inefficiencies and electricity loss caused by long-distance transmission and distribution lines, allowing for better overall resource allocation and optimization.
- Energy independence: A modern microgrid will also be able to operate independently or in connection with the main power grid. By disconnecting from the central grid through a process called islanding, a microgrid strengthens resiliency since it can still operate and deliver uninterrupted energy or rapidly facilitate power restoration to the end users during major grid outages.
Main Modern Microgrid Components
From Legacy Microgrids to Modern Microgrids: A Brief History
One of the main reasons for the recent interest in microgrids as a viable solution to several challenges plaguing the current energy landscape — an overstressed and outdated grid prone to outages; urgent sustainability and decarbonization goals; the electrification transformation at all levels — has been the innovative development of the decentralized and distributed control and optimization system.
Decentralized Controls: A Major Breakthrough in Microgrid Optimization
Earlier microgrid iterations relied on a centralized control system, like a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). This approach uses a central processing unit to gather measurements and decide the next action for coordinated microgrid operations. While PLCs and centralized controls provide a basic ability to manage simple microgrids, these systems lack the sophistication to handle and simplify the complexity of modern microgrids.
Enter the decentralized microgrid control and optimization system. The decentralized approach instead uses devices with predefined software and algorithms embedded in each asset to make component-level decisions and build a self-forming system from the ground up. Then, a distributed multi-agent architecture allows the local controllers to communicate with each other to act as a single entity. This evolution from centralized to decentralized and distributed controls has empowered microgrids to be more than backup energy sources.
Now that we’ve identified the basic structure and controls let’s explore why these distributed energy systems matter.
When effectively designed, a modern microgrid solves a wide range of problems with the current centralized electrical grid.
By integrating storage options and a decentralized control platform overcomes the challenges presented by the intermittency of renewable power sources to deliver resilient, scalable, and sustainable energy.
Then, as noted above, microgrids can operate in several modes: grid-connected, islanded, and hybrid. This ability to seamlessly transition between modes means a modern microgrid not only provides localized power but can also facilitate faster energy restoration and ensure a more resilient energy source for end users, such as a fleet of C&I facilities.
Additionally, the modern microgrid can potentially enable participation in grid services and ancillary energy markets, opening up opportunities for even more cost savings and revenue streams, such as demand response programs, improved load management, peak shaving, optimizing energy generation and consumption, and more.
Benefits of A Modern Microgrid with Decentralized Controls:
- Resiliency by avoiding outages and downtime
- Savings through optimizing site economics
- Sustainability by integrating renewable energy to reduce emissions
- Scalability by easily expanding as needs evolve
- Reliability by standardizing a previously non-standardized ecosystem
The Heila EDGE Microgrid Control and Optimization Platform
The Heila EDGE® microgrid platform uses a decentralized, modular, and vendor-agnostic design to build self-managing microgrids from the ground up.
By standardizing highly customized DER systems, the EDGE ensures widespread DER asset interoperability, streamlined system scalability, and consistent project repeatability. These features enable simple deployment, durable systems, predictable performance, and enhanced return on investment for modern microgrids, whether at a single site or across an entire fleet.
As the world embraces a future powered by renewable energy and enhanced grid resilience, microgrids offer a crucial bridge between centralized and decentralized energy systems. Their ability to integrate renewable sources, enhance grid resilience, and empower energy management makes them an indispensable solution.
Looking for a more in-depth examination of the modern microgrid? Then check out our Top 5 Business Cases for a Microgrid eBook.