By Monika Brzostowska
Do you remember that Disney Channel movie about the Smart house that became so smart that it ended up trapping the people living in it because it became jealous (Smart House, 1999)? What a concept! Lucky for us, the Smart Technology that exists out in the world now does not do anything like that, but it sure is up to that level of intelligence. It is amazing how something that was once considered a “Sci-Fi” movie idea has become our everyday reality. Almost every day we hear the term “Microgrid”, but what exactly is that? What does it do? Why is it important? How does this Smart Technology benefit us?
“Microgrids are defined by the U.S. Department of Energy as a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources (DER) with clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as single, controllable entity with respect to the grid and can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island mode.” (NYSERDA – Microgrids 101) This is a great definition provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, but of course this requires a prerequisite understanding of the terms interconnected loads, distributed energy resources, grid-connected, and island mode. So let’s simplify this definition to something that the everyday reader can actually connect to. The word microgrid (“micro” “grid”) is actually a pretty good definition of the concept itself. “Micro” means small and “grid” refers to the electrical grid, so if you imagine a small electrical grid then you pretty much figured out what a microgrid is!
It is a smaller version of the electrical grid, that often acts independently, but can also work with the grid, depending on the purpose and location of the microgrid. For example, microgrids are often used in areas with frequent hurricanes because the microgrids can serve as back up power in case the main electrical grid loses its power. Because microgrids are often powered by renewable energy resources, such as solar power, and coupled with battery storage, they do not have to rely on the grid’s power. They can provide their own power to the connected infrastructure. How much power they can supply depends on the size of the microgrid and how efficient the technology within the microgrid is.
Although microgrids are most popular in areas of frequent hurricanes, they can still be found in other areas of the world, such as New York. Brooklyn, New York is home to a new microgrid project called “The Brooklyn Microgrid.” The Brooklyn Microgrid plan originated in the Spring of 2016. It is a community driven initiative that began in the Park Slope and Gowanus communities. The project was led by a company called LO3 Energy. This microgrid concept, started by LO3 Energy, is different than the traditional microgrid because it makes use of a communal energy network; hundreds of local residents enroll and test a new digital platform that allows them to learn where their energy is coming from and whom they pay for that energy. (Brooklyn Microgrid, 2019)
Of course, the Brooklyn Microgrid is not the only new and innovative microgrid project. There are many sprouting ideas similar to it. The importance of microgrids was recently realized all over the globe, not just for their environmental benefits and emergency back-up capabilities, but also for their potential to bring communities together. Many organizations are now working with communities to design and implement microgrids of all types, sizes, capacities, and accessibilities. It is safe to say that the world can expect the next decade or so to be the new “Microgrid Era.”
- https://www.brooklyn.energy/ (Brooklyn Microgrid)
- https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Programs/NY-Prize/Resources-for-applicants/Microgrids-101 (NYSERDA)