Rolling blackouts and wildfires are the desperate cries for load-shedding and microgrids
- Sep 25, 2020 9:18 pm GMT
In August, California announced its first non-wildfire-related rolling blackouts since 2001. The cause? A brutal heatwave that brought inclement temperatures to the west coast of the United States. Residents and businesses were readying to blast their AC units, placing an unsustainable burden on the state’s centralized electric grids.
Then, to close out the summer, the wildfires came, threatening large swaths of utility customers access to power. Such are the modern-day problems of centralized power grids.
But let’s focus on the mid-August threat of non-wildfire rolling black outs. Customers connected to the centralized grids faced black outs that could last 1-2 hours. That is worrisome in such a dramatic heatwave and threatening for people who rely on electrical life-supporting devices.
According to news reports, the state’s various microgrid operators fared just fine and even stepped up for their surrounding communities. According to Microgrid Knowledge, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps switched 22 ships from on-shore power and put them on generators and flipped on their microgrid systems, shedding 23.5 MW of power off the centralized power grid. Another six microgrids, financed by California’s Electric Program Investment Charge program, were able to shave 1.2 MW off the grid load and the Blue Lake Rancheria tribal community, right in the path of the rolling blackouts, turned their microgrid to island mode and welcomed people from the surrounding communities to come take advantage of their electricity island.
The benefits to microgrids for the purpose of load-shedding have been well documented for a while now but we’ve still seen barriers to the wide-armed embrace of the technology by state and local governments. As the technology is still relatively new, there remain legal barriers to their embrace, some of which are owed to a lack of standard definition, state to state, region to region, community to community. The financing can also be tricky.
Will 2020 be the year that we finally begin to see a full-throated endorsement by politicians and government leaders? It appears we are running out of time.
For the barriers to state-adoption of widespread microgrids, the private market has made progress. The company OhmConnect oversees a collection of home microgrids and actually took those private home grids and put their capacity to the grid, creating an additional 220 MWh of capacity to the struggling centralized power grid in California. OhmConnect paid customers $300,000 in a single day, according to Microgrid Knowledge, for their portion of the capacity the company provided to the larger grid.
This year saw an extreme wildfire season and extreme heat. Nothing indicates that this was a one-time occurance. This is likely going to be our reality heading into the future. Microgrids needs to see a wider embrace if we’re going to mitigate overloading our power sources and standing resilient against wildfire season.
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