The Future of Microgrids: Factors Driving Growth

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Traditionally found in emergency and first responder applications, microgrids have come a long way. Driven by the rapid adoption of renewable energy initiatives, they’re becoming more common at colleges and universities, small communities, co-ops, and more.

A microgrid is a small footprint power generation grid designed to serve a local area. It may comprise a single source of power generation such as solar, wind, micro-hydro, or conventional power generation. It may be comprised of a combination of these systems.

As renewable energy grows as a viable option for power, microgrids have become more mainstream. We may be poised for advancement that sees microgrids integrate with the traditional extensive region grid system and perhaps overtake it one day. But what’s the future of microgrids, and what factors will drive their growth?

The Status Quo Will Change

The regional and national grid system that serves the entire world is changing. Inefficiencies are inherent, and problems arise as more renewable resources come online. One problem is that for microgrids connected to the primary grid for backup and surplus power sale, the larger grids only treat batteries as a one-way power source.

This unilateral relationship means that the two systems don’t work together efficiently – microgrids are capable of two-way generation and communication while large grids aren’t. As IoT technology, AI, and advanced analytics become more common, the larger grid needs to communicate with microgrids and use them as a power supply when they have storage for the large grid’s excess power.

Look for continued growth in IoT technology whereby the two systems can communicate and determine power, peak load, and capacity using analytics. We may also see the development of precise strategies to optimize both systems.

Formalized Standards are Coming

Any new and disruptive technology eventually requires standardization to create system efficiencies. As local, state, and federal governments drive low or no-carbon initiatives, systems must become more advanced.

Standards are needed for all aspects of microgrid control and interactions with large grids. This future standardization covers functional areas such as design, engineering, safety, and security to create industry standards, parts, supplies, connections, communications, and power management.

This formalized standards process makes sense if microgrids become the norm and eventually replace the larger system. These standards will most likely revolve around control systems and benefit both the end-user and the power generator.

Scaling and Control Integration Will Expand the Reach of Microgrids

This statement doesn’t mean that a microgrid will grow to the size of a regional grid. As microgrid control systems have advanced and are more embedded with IoT and AI, precise real-time control is possible. Combined with current and future standardization, these controls systems are now easier to optimize as they take advantage of advanced analytics modeling, digital twin technology, and more.

As they become more efficient and their components and operation are standardized, microgrids will be easier to scale and design. Systems will be modular and capable of rapid expansion. This growth in efficiency will reduce startup costs and help commoditize the energy produced.

Since they utilize IoT and other modular technology that’s easily added to the system, microgrids can be tied to other IoT applications used to create smart cities, smart campuses, and smart infrastructures. As AI and other technologies develop, new levels of efficiency are achievable.

Security Will Be Front and Center

The arrival of Industry 4.0, IoT, AI, the cloud, and other advanced technologies have heightened the risk and understanding of security. If microgrids can replace most, or perhaps all, of a nation’s power generation, the connectivity must be secure. Just as engineering and design standards will be developed for hardware and software, security protocols and enhancements will be standardized to protect the system from intrusion.

The Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre (HBEC) at Georgian College is at the forefront of business innovation and entrepreneurial development technology. We offer mentorship, training, funding, thought leadership, and connections to new business leaders who will utilize the power generated by microgrids or develop products and services to supply this rapidly growing industry. Contact us today to find out how we can help.

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