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The increasing efficiency and affordability of distributed and renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, fuel cells, and batteries creates more opportunities for portions of the grid to function independently, in configurations known as microgrids.

As defined by the U.S. Department of Energy, microgrids are “localized [energy] grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously and help mitigate grid disturbances to strengthen grid resilience.”

Microgrids can range in scope from an individual house to part or all of a distribution feeder, the area served by a substation, or an entire island.

Image courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Energy Image courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Energy

Resilience is a core characteristic of microgrids, but resilience comes in many forms. It can mean providing secure and continuous power to critical sites such as hospitals, military bases, data centers and water treatment and pumping facilities. Resilience can mean helping incorporate distributed energy generation into the grid to balance supply and demand. It can mean stronger defense against and faster recovery from storm-related outages.

Microgrids are a great use case for situational intelligence. Why?

  • They are geospatial entities.
  • They are networks connected to other networks.
  • They rely on multiple, disparate data sources.
  • They depend on real-time operations.

As described in a previous blog post, situational intelligence applications excel at unifying the utility Internet of Things. Microgrids are a microcosm of the large utility Internet of Things. Information from smart metering, SCADA, outage management, workforce management, distributed energy source and other utility data sources can be analyzed and visualized to provide a whole and coherent real-time picture of the grid to aid in operations, maintenance and planning.

According to Navigant Research, more than 400 microgrid projects are under development worldwide. Notable examples of microgrids include:

  • New York University, where the microgrid successfully detached from the main grid during Hurricane Sandy and continued to power much of the campus
  • Sendai microgrid in Japan, which powered a nearby hospital for two days after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami
  • The 1,200-person ecological estate in Mannheim-Wallstadt, Germany
  • Bornholm Island, Denmark

As distribution automation permeates more and more of the grid, we’ll see more microgrids of varying scopes bolstering the reliability of power delivery.

 

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