Microgrids and Their Potential Impacts

Microgrids are quickly becoming the future of the power industry as the city of Austin, Texas recently experimented with microgrids as a way to lessen the impact and incidence of electrical blackouts. Essentially, they are investing in a lot of renewable energy infrastructure–solar panels, battery storage, and computer connected programs for smart control of energy.

With this DIY network of sustainably-generated and stored energy, away from the Grid with a capital G, they are hoping to achieve the goal of having readily available emergency energy in case there is a blackout. This would mean that hospitals, fire stations, and other crucial buildings will have the power they need to continue their important function. 

With climate change causing more unpredictable weather, the ability to have backup capacity on hand at the drop of a dime is becoming even more important. What microgrids provide is much more flexibility and an option to move away from the big, hunking electrical power plants of old.

Microgrid Basics

The impacts of microgrids will not adequately measured until the infrastructure has been built and tested for years. As many have stated, there’s not enough information and understanding just yet to fully bank on the technology, but it’s shaping up to be an exciting addition to grid capacity and security. 

A microgrid is pretty self-explanatory: it’s essentially a local grid that is connected to a major grid, but unlike the large grid, it’s small, flexible, scalable, and easily controlled. It has the ability to disconnect itself from a major grid if there’s a power outage. That ability makes it valuable because it can then add emergency power relief away from the offline grid. 

Microgrids for California Wildfire Relief

As wildfires rage in California, many are left without power: 738,000 customers to be exact. California is a leader in microgrid utilization, but wildfires are proving far too prevalent and destructive despite a massive push for microgrid expansion. In other words, despite all of the microgrids in California, many are still without power right now. California has invested a lot of money on microgrids, but it isn’t providing electricity because of just how large scale the fires have been. 

Despite those challenges in California, microgrids are continuing to make an immediate impact like at MSU in New Jersey. The university successfully disconnected themselves from the grid and turned the university into a self-sufficient “island”. This was necessitated by Hurricane Sandy (and future hurricane risk).

All in all, MSU and the efforts in Austin show that microgrids are a powerful solution to a problem that affects us all: extreme weather, climate change, and the subsequent power outages that occur. It might be best to give ourselves as much flexibility as possible. Microgrids can do that.

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