What is a Microgrid?

First, we must understand our current national energy system.The “macro” grid is a massive electrical network of energy sources that connects utilities, energy generators, storage, and 24-7 control centers monitoring supply and demand. For more on the macro grid, check out this site!

The Department of Energy defines a microgrid as a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island-mode.

A microgrid can:

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  • Use solar panels and large batteries placed throughout your neighborhood to create its own power supply

  • Work even when the usual power is out (island mode)

  • Provide a clean, renewable source of energy

  • May be used instead of utility’s electricity when electricity prices are high or peaking

The macro grid made sense when power generation was centralized. But, this system is wildly outdated - as well as dependent on dirty energy sources - and this is hindering large scale system transformation to cleaner and decentralized energy. Decentralized energy is more reliable since most outages (on the macrogrid) are due to transmission and distribution failures.

Glossary:

  • Distributed Energy Resources (DER): electricity-producing resources that are directly connected to a local distribution system

  • Grid: network for delivering electricity

  • Islanding: when a system maintains power (separate from the grid) when electrical grid power is no longer available

  • Load: physical entity (buildings, cars, homes) that consumes power

  • (Public) Utility: supplier of public services such as electricity or gas under special regulation by the government

  • Resilience: capacity for a system to (a) maintain function under extreme stress and (b) adapt and evolve to improve sustainability in the system

    For a more in depth dive into this system’s definitions, please refer here.

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Benefits of Microgrids:

Resilience:

  • Reliable power source during an outage

  • More dependable as climate threats increase in severity and frequency

  • Shelter in place when evacuation is not an option

Cost Efficient:

  • By producing power independent of utility companies, user-interaction with the energy market is more flexible

  • Lowers electricity bill

  • Uses existing programs to finance energy efficiency upgrades

  • Creates local jobs

Clean Energy:

  • Reduces dependance on dirty forms of energy

  • Increases applications of renewable energy

  • Meets greenhouse gas reduction goals

  • Improves air quality as clean energy increases

  • Benefits public health