The Profound Effect of Microgrids

Major upgrades to our aging infrastructure are something of a pipe dream in today’s market. In our society technologies come and go. Computers and digital technologies age out in less than two years. Nuclear power plants are close to reaching the end of their life cycle. All of which bring us to an interesting cross roads. Where do we go from here? Do we spend hundreds of billions, if not more, to build modern nuclear power plants or do we look further into the future and use the Information Age to our advantage?

As coal plants are retrofitted to burn natural gas, we need to consider the methods of how exactly to reduce strain on the grid using the cleanest resources we have at our disposal. Once the symbolic plug gets pulled on generation plants of the Industrial and Nuclear eras, the electrical grid will need to be radically improved to handle the rapid growth of our device-dependent populace.

The solution may include sustainable local initiatives that can be implemented per city block or community around the country. This solution is called a Microgrid and uses smart technologies to overcome the instabilities of our country’s archaic electrical infrastructure.

Microgrids Defined

Microgrids incorporate the most important aspects of sustainable business practices and smart technologies. They utilize renewable power resources while creating a savings plan for the owner, reducing CO2 emissions, achieving energy security and independence, and providing a resistance to natural disaster outages.

A Microgrid energy system connects to the electrical grid at a single point. It can either operate independently, relying on renewable energy resources to supplement electricity demand, or run parallel to the main grid using it as auxiliary power. Microgrids primarily use a central Distributed Energy Resource (DER) such as a Cogeneration (CHP) system to carry a majority of the electrical load. Microgrids similarly incorporate ancillary systems like photovoltaics (PV), wind power or Vehicle-to-Grid sources of energy.

Electrical and thermal storage are key components to further strengthen system efficiency and performance. The CHP functionally transfers energy from waste heat to a thermal storage medium whereas a battery backup will be used to store additional power generated during off-peak hours.

Grid Connection and Islanding

Integration to the grid is a tricky component for maximizing system reliability. The central DER would connect to the main grid to offset electrical demand with auxiliary power. Most Microgrids are designed to run parallel to the main grid with the DER doing the lion’s share of the work. However, DERs are not typically built to carry 100% of the load due to high upfront costs. A Microgrid is ideally designed to run parallel to the main grid using a back-up power source to supplement the electrical load during blackouts or brownouts.

This system works best when only supplying power within its own designated (micro) grid, and not feeding power back to the main grid. Technical difficulties and system anomalies can arise when systems are designed for the latter. These anomalies can affect power quality, voltage stability, harmonics, reliability, protection, and security.

Most grid paralleled generation operates at a fixed capacity with an established baseload. Once a Microgrid is islanded, generation resources shift to load following operations with mechanical power regulated to maintain bus frequency instead of constant output. Speed control can be isochronous, and bus frequency, regardless of load or droop in, can droop with increasing load. (1)

Voltage droop is the intentional loss in output voltage from an energy resource. If a resource is not designed to regulate droop, the output voltage will temporarily sag when load demand peaks. On the flipped side, when demand quickly drops, the voltage will show a peak. The output regulators have to “absorb” these droops before the loop has a chance to compensate. Most islanded systems use isochronous governor control to maintain constant bus frequency and allow some baseloaded generators to run in droop.

In grid paralleled mode, most DERs regulate the excitation of the generator to maintain a constant power factor or constant reactive power (VAR) output. Once islanded, the excitation must be controlled to maintain bus voltage. Each generator must provide a proportional amount of the total reactive power load. If the excitation isn’t controlled proportionally, circulating currents will result. Circulating currents don’t flow from generator to load between generators, causing unnecessary heating within the windings.

Effective Energy Storage

Energy storage systems are already serving as a vital component of smart Microgrid projects. Batteries used for energy storage are an important advancement in renewable resources. Lithium batteries have proven effective in most cases. Having a battery backup compliments wind and solar systems well, storing power from wind at night while using power from solar during the day. The benefit of using batteries to store energy generated from CHP is having a profound impact on cities like New York, where load shedding is becoming commonplace.

Energy storage systems also play a critical role in protecting power reliability for the most critical loads. Excess power created during off-peak hours, especially at night, is being utilized to supplement critical loads such as telecom and data centers where every minute of operating time counts when load shedding is necessary or in the case of an outage.

The benefits of having a smart Microgrid supported by an energy storage system can be far reaching, with benefits for end users ranging from the military, to remote communities, to water treatment facilities, emergency response services and universities. Today’s advanced energy storage solutions make it practical to incorporate clean renewable energy resources into a smart Microgrid. As more users recognize the benefits of applying energy storage in Microgrids, such applications—and the associated benefits—will continue to grow. (2)


Smartgrid combines the digital technology of computers with the electrical grid. The inclusion of Smartgrid systems provide real-time usage data for the customer to monitor energy usage data, provide improved distributor response time, and overall system efficiency. These systems utilize Smart meters and Smart thermostats as building blocks for adaptability to the main grid’s infrastructure.

Smart meters are installed on a customer’s house or building to digitally transmit meter readings to utility companies. They are easily installed at the existing electrical meter location and basically a change-out for the original. Smart meters can also be adapted to cut power to certain household appliances during peak hours to reduce consumption. The upgrades offer broadband communication for all utilities including: Electric, Gas, and water. These changes can be used to support a strong argument for the business plan players in the Smartgrid game by updating the aging infrastructure without the need to make extensive capital investments in physical assets. Preparing customers for future changes one step at a time.

Smartgrids automatically detect problems or outages and reroute power around the issue to minimize power losses. They also eliminate the additional costs incurred from estimated billing for customers. The improved operational efficiency of Smartgrid applications are estimated to further drive down consumer costs in other ways.

Supportive Legislation

Local and federal government agencies have quickly realized the necessity for Smartgrids. Initiatives have been made by elected officials to attract the kind of talent that can change the future landscape of grid infrastructure. These innovative thinkers are being invited to redefine the market for the purpose of attracting more business by creating opportunities that make financial sense.

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) & Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) are cohesive programs operating in the state right now to promote sustainability. NYSERDA plans to align its programs with REV to promote activity in the market for the purpose of meeting the goals of NYC to reduce greenhouse gas emission levels set in 2005 by 80% by 2050.

On February 11, 2015, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo launched a $40 million program — NY Prize Microgrid Competition (NY Prize) — to improve Microgrid design and enhance community access to safe and reliable energy. NY Prize was created to help communities reduce costs, promote clean energy, and build reliable resiliency into the electric grid.

The scope of NY Prize includes empowering community leaders; encouraging broad private and public sector participation including local distribution utilities, local governments, and third parties; protecting vulnerable populations; and providing tools to build a cleaner more reliable energy system.

“Having a reliable source of power is crucial when extreme weather strikes – and by launching this Microgrid competition, we’re encouraging the development of more resilient energy networks across the State,” Governor Cuomo said. “Developing and implementing Microgrids will mean that more New Yorkers can benefit from a cleaner and more efficient energy system that will also be more accessible when they need it most. This is another way that the State is stepping up to help local communities build back stronger in the face of severe weather events, and I encourage all interested parties to apply,” Cuomo said.

Richard Kauffman, Chairman of Energy and Finance, Office of Governor Cuomo, said, “Reforming the Energy Vision’s groundbreaking initiatives will fundamentally transform the way electricity is distributed and used in New York State. This unprecedented effort is creating the power grid of the future and changing the way consumers buy and use energy. By introducing and embracing information technology and clean energy solutions, such as Microgrids, millions of New Yorkers will benefit from a 21st century power grid, enabling them to better manage and reduce their energy costs.”

The competition will be administered by the NYSERDA with support from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office of Storm Recovery.


The Profound Effect of Microgrids via Trystate Mechanical, Inc. 


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