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Can Microgrids Prevent Outages?

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Julian Jackson is a writer whose interests encompass business and technology, cryptocurrencies, energy and the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is here:...

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Wisconsin is a kind of 'poster-boy' for grid problems, suffering from high winds, winter storms and flooding in the spring and summer, which often cause outages. Consumers are unhappy about the state of their grid. Wisconsin Office of Energy Innovation responded by funding a Critical Infrastructure Microgrid and Community Resilience Centers Pilot Grant Program (CIMCRC), to promote resilience by deploying microgrids and renewables.

By offering $985,000 to 15 applicants the office was able to receive reports on various different solutions to the problem. The program focuses on innovative outage mitigation through critical infrastructure microgrids and other resilience building strategies by studying the feasibility of the deployment of distributed energy resources (DERs) and energy storage, along with improved software and controls.

Various different approaches were tried by the scheme's respondents, Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) completed microgrid feasibility studies that identify options for a school, wastewater treatment plant, police department and, of all things, a monastery.

SEPA looked into challenges such as natural disaster risks, customers’ emission reduction targets and critical infrastructure. Their studies examined the economic and technical feasibility of improving resilience by adding solar, storage and other microgrid technologies. They identified several options for achieving resilience, carbon emission reductions, cost savings and income from assets.

By starting with resilience, and working backwards, the team could identify which possible solutions were the best for the customer.

The scenarios included ground-mounted solar in every case, plus a variety of batteries. In the first scenario, a 175 kW/500 kWh battery would provide short-term resilience, peak shaving and energy arbitrage. In the second, a 150 kW/600 kWh battery would provide peak shaving. The third scenario used a 150 kW/600 kWh battery for energy arbitrage and the fourth scenario opted for a 1,000 kW/4,000 kWh battery for long-term resilience and economic power dispatch.

This is a first step to improving grid performance and resilience in Wisconsin. The lessons learned will be applicable to other states with similar outage issues.

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Joshua Aldridge's picture
Joshua Aldridge on Aug 24, 2022

Great contribution! I'd love to know more about this one. It sounds a lot like what Wake EMC near Raleigh, NC is doing. In my experience, the best way a distribution utility can protect it's customers is by addressing capacity and congestion issues as "locally" as possible, and these microgrids...when done correctly, provide a sustainable option to do so. 

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