WHAT: Micro-Grids are small-scale electrical grids that are operated and maintained with computer software to create an independent “Smart-Grid” that can efficiently generate, distribute and regulate electric power independently or in collaboration with the existing electrical grid.
WHY: The U.S. Electrical Grid is very old and very outdated. It is inefficient at distributing power to its customers and because of its interconnected design and age; it is highly susceptible to outages from natural disasters and sabotage. Because of these factors and the pressing need to repair and update infrastructure, the cost for power continues to rise and is becoming increasingly expensive for consumers.
Micro-Grids provide users a large variety of benefits.
- Increased energy independence: While current technology makes it difficult for large areas or business complexes to become completely independent from “The Grid”, micro-grids allow for increased independence from utility providers, allowing the user to control utility usage and in-turn costs by efficiently integrating renewable energy sources and allowing for efficient energy generation and distribution, as well as potential storage.
- Increased Reliability: Micro-Grids are designed to be efficient and effective at providing electricity through computers that regulate and distribute power when needed. Since they are independent from “The Grid” they are less susceptible from outages and allow for greater reliability for sensitive electricity needs, such as hospitals, science research facilities and military bases.
- Minimized Outages: Since micro-grids operate independently from the larger interconnected U.S. Electrical Grid, they are less susceptible to damages caused by natural disasters and failures from the greater-grid since it is a very large and interconnected network where entire regions become equally susceptible to potential outages as seen in the Northeast U.S. after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, where 8.5 million customers were without power.
- Minimized Cost: Micro-grids allow for consumers to separate themselves from the high retail costs of electricity provided through major utility companies. These companies continually increase service prices to allow for infrastructure repair and updating.
HOW: Micro-Grids are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. Each micro-grid can be customized for the area that it is providing service to, such as an apartment building, and entire business complex or a military base.
Micro-Grids allow for a customized integration of multiple energy sources, including solar panels, hydro-electric generators, natural gas turbines, or diesel generators, as well as conventional grid-based energy.
WHEN/WHERE: Now. Micro-grids are already being used by large corporations such as Oracle and EBay, among others, and by universities like U.C. San Diego, as well as governmental agencies, including the United States Food and Drug Administration and military bases like, Fort Bliss in Texas. According to Navigant Research, a clean-technology data and consulting company, micro-grids are expected to explode into a $40 billion-a-year global business by 2020, and will be managing around 6 gigawatts of electricity in the United States alone. A number of companies are working to develop and promote the development of micro-grids around the country and around the world including: Gen110/Solar Universe Inc., Sunverge Energy Inc., Lockheed Martin and Green Energy Corp.
To learn more about Micro-Grids and Smart-Grid technology, read Arber Doci’s article: SMART GRID
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