So-called microgrids could be the key to improving electric reliability. It’s a concept that has been gaining traction in the last few years thanks to the ever-increasing frequency of major storm activity. In fact, Superstorm Sandy served as the catalyst for much of this movement.
One example of a microgrid deployment involves the City of Hoboken, NJ. After Sandy, city officials identified 55 buildings as top-priority locations that would be first in line to get the power restored after an outage. These include hospitals, fire stations, and other critical facilities. Interconnected backup generators are currently being installed in each location as part of a large-scale project that could take up to 20 years to complete.
While generators are probably the most obvious way to create microgrids, this is certainly not the only way. As an example, officials in Fort Collins, CO are seeking to reduce energy consumption by 30% by installing solar panels on the roof of a local brewery, as well as developing a system that converts waste from beer fermentation into methane-fueled electricity, among other things. Smaller-scale communities are also pursuing similar solutions to boost electric reliability – for example, Santa Rita Jail (Alameda County, CA) saves over $100,000 a year thanks to its microgrid, and the University of California and Princeton University are almost completely off the grid at this point.
All-in-all, microgrids represent an interesting way to enhance reliability. Time will tell whether or not this is a scalable solution; I have my doubts since the inherent fragmentation of this type of network means that it’s certainly not a quick fix. So, don’t run out and toss your company’s emergency plans in the trash bin just yet. That said, it’s a step in the right direction for achieving what we all want – more reliable service. For more on this topic, check out this article from seeker.com.