A simple explanation for the term microgrid is a local energy network.
It also goes by several different monikers, including distributed generation, on-site generation, dispersed generation, embedded generation, decentralized generation, decentralized energy or distributed energy, all of which points to one essential definition: electricity that is generated from many small energy sources.
A residential solar system that supplies all of the energy required by the homeowner, a commercial solar installation on a university building that supplies its power needs, wind turbines that power a facility in a remote location - these are all examples of microgrids at work, where the energy is generated on site or close to it and excess supply is transmitted to neighbors, negating the need for long distance transmission lines from remote power plants.
Microgrids also render unnecessary the lengthy process of permitting, assessments and research required for installing transmission lines through public and private land, the expenses that accompany large scale power plants and all the other headaches associated with a utility scale grid.
Anya Kamenetz, a writer who has spent time studying the energy industry and the emerging trends towards utility scale renewable energy projects, presents a case advocating microgrids as the answer to the energy crisis confronting nations across the world and explains why utility companies will fight the proliferation of microgrids.
Despite the support for utility scale renewable energy projects from stalwarts like Al Gore and Nevada Senator Harry Reid, and the push by utilities across the country to source certain percentages of their power from renewable resources as a result of the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) being adopted by various states, Kamenetz argues that utilities are getting the government to subsidize construction of multi-billion-dollar, far-flung, supersize solar and wind farms covering millions of acres, all connected via outsize transmission lines.
It is a well known fact that about 10 per cent of power is 'lost' during transmission, which is another drawback for large scale power plants located in remote locations, in addition to the costs. Kamenetz highlights how it takes years for power lines to be proposed, approved and completed and that utility companies go ahead with these plans with out knowing for sure that a power plant will materialize.
A better alternative, according to a rising school of thought that contradicts the push for large scale projects, is to encourage microgrids that will not only supply the needs of its owners but also feed the excess back to the grid, transforming these systems into mini smart grids.
The U.S Department of Energy also supports the development of microgrid support as a feasible solution for protecting critical loads and economically sensitive developments - high energy consumers such as data centers, server farms and telecommunication facilities, so that there is no loss of power in the event of grid failures. Companies like IBM and GE are also getting involved in microgrid energy management systems.
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