Microgrids & Resilient Energy

Market Overview: Most solar-energy systems are designed to connect to the utility grid, and cannot stand alone without the grid. When the grid fails, the solar-PV system fails. Microgrids are different, in that they can operate autonomously without the grid, effectively creating their own small grid, an “island” or “microgrid.” Sometimes these projects integrate site generation of electricity from fossil-fuel generators or other sources, and these typically are called “hybrid microgrids.”

There are a variety of reasons to build a microgrid or hybrid project. The two primary reasons are reliability and the ability to manage energy expense spending.

Hurricane Sandy is a good example of driving large regions to want to have greater reliability and autonomy in their energy source. A building or multiple buildings or a community with a stand-alone microgrid or hybrid designed to be highly survivable could be more resilient than a conventional utility grid distribution system.

But we believe the more practical and usual reason will evolve to allow electricity users to control when and how much electricity they take from the utility grid. Time-of-Use pricing is leading to more expensive electricity during the hours when it is most in demand. A microgrid can manage those costs by reducing or effectively shifting utility usage to hours when the cost is lower. This financial driver will likely be as important or more so than reliability for the wider energy market.

There also is a growing market for fully islanded systems that have no utility service. We have engineered and built a number of these systems, both inside and outside the country. These typically are islands or locations that are too far from a utility service provider to have distribution systems.