NEWS & INSIGHTS

How microgrids provide energy resiliency

The energy crisis accentuated our need for renewable energy in our national grid. Tight supplies...

The energy crisis accentuated our need for renewable energy in our national grid. Tight supplies in the grid puts many industries and businesses at operational risk. It is argued that Britain’s ambitious climate goals and reliance on renewables, which has positively reduced emissions, has left their energy system exposed to factors causing the recent energy crisis

Macro events such as the energy crisis and the Suez Canal blockage have demonstrated what can happen to national energy supply and demand. Resilience to our energy systems is crucial as we transition a circular, renewable energy-based economy. 

Technological developments in energy storage and renewable resources such as solar panels are making concepts like microgrids more promising solutions to our future energy needs that will add resilience to our energy systems. 

What is a microgrid?

A microgrid is a local, controllable, and decentralised group of electricity sources and loads that can disconnect from national or macro grids and remain viable. When disconnected from larger grids, microgrids can sustain energy distribution to its users through its own power generation. This is sometimes referred to as running on “island mode. Microgrids, then, must have their own power generation source. Renewable energies are often the primary source of power generation.

The ability to operate “on an island” provides energy security and resiliency for those connected to the microgrid by providing emergency energy supply. In addition to acting as a backup grid, a microgrid provides cost-saving and emissions-cutting opportunities to individuals and organisations using it. 

Microgrids can reduce energy waste and diversify the power grid for those connected to it.  These self-contained power grids are able to rely on direct current (DC) power produced by connected renewable energy sources. Instead of having to draw alternating current (AC) power from a national or regional grid and converting that to DC power, which incurs energy loss, buildings would be able to draw DC power directly from the microgrid. This makes them an active power network (one that contains at least one voltage source that can supply energy to a network indefinitely) rather than a passive one. 

Renewable energy generation will be key instruments to microgrids’ further development and adoption. These innovations to power generation and distribution are seen also as great solutions for the challenges we face transitioning to renewable energy. Sustainable energy engineer Florijn de Graaf wrote: “These microgrids have the potential to significantly contribute to the resilience and flexibility of our energy system, as they can facilitate the large-scale rollout of intermittent renewable energy technologies without requiring expensive infrastructure upgrades.”

Use cases for microgrids

Communities, residential areas, businesses, schools and research facilities, hospitals, military sites, and government buildings are just a few examples of sites that benefit from microgrid concepts. While these entities may normally be connected to a national network, they can have assurance that reserve power supply is on hand if connected to a microgrid should the national grid go dark due to power outages (from maintenance or disasters). 

Recent use case: Delivering wasted data centre energy to nearby buildings

WZMH Architects, a Toronto-based architecture firm, recently developed the concept of harnessing wasted energy from data centres and redistributing it elsewhere. 

Data centres are some of the most energy-intensive structures in the world. Storing hundreds of servers that need to be kept running and cooled at all times requires loads of energy. Studies find that data centres consume at least 1-2 per cent of the global electricity use. Some say it may be more. Much of this electricity is wasted.

WZHM, in partnership with Ryerson University, conceptualised a system where wasted energy from data centres could be harnessed and delivered to nearby buildings through a DC microgrid and battery storage system. Buildings near data centres could benefit from a free, reliable, and self-sustaining energy source. 

This microgrid concept would be an alternative power system to those nearby buildings. Their equipment and assets would be powered by the recycled energy from data centres along with a microgrid’s own renewable energy generation and battery storage systems.

 

WZHM’s microgrid servers

Data centres can waste up to 90 per cent of the energy they draw from the grid. WZHM’s microgrid conceptualisation would recycle that wasted energy to nearby buildings. Photo by imgix on Unsplash

 

Driving innovation in renewable energy generation

The challenges with full-scale renewable energy adoption in a larger grid network are its small-scale or intermittent power production. However, microgrids will benefit from local renewable energy generation when operating in island mode. The supply from renewable energy sources can satisfy intermittent demand, and thus making the use of renewables more attractive to consumers.

Microgrids invite those connected to it to diversify its energy sources. Independent green energy producers (GEPs) will be encouraged to plug in their solution to the microgrid with the realisation that the green energy they produce may be more readily used. As microgrids become more prominent, we may see a proliferation of renewable energy generation and consumption. This will certainly lessen our reliance on fossil fuels that are predominantly used to generate electricity. 

Microgrids benefit all in the energy system

Microgrids are an exciting innovation in energy transmission and distribution. They will ensure a stable and potentially cheaper energy supply from locally connected sources, increased energy efficiency from reduced transmission and distribution losses, and chances for microgrid operators to sell energy to the wider network. 

If you are interested in reducing your business energy costs and consumption and cutting emissions, contact ClearVUE Systems today.


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