Microgrids are receiving increased attention for energy security and powering isolated communities. Natural disasters cause significant power disruptions worldwide. Additional problems occur due to malicious attacks. The concept of a microgrid is not new; the national utility grid grew from individual microgrids. Remote islands and Alaskan communities still use microgrids, given no alternative. Electric utility companies are continually improving gird resiliency, but microgrid technology may be a more robust long-term solution. As society is increasingly dependent on electricity, for lighting, communication, financial transactions, transportation, food, and education, electricity supply interruptions are expensive. Microgrids allow installations like military bases, airports, industrial facilities, and even some communities to maintain mission critical functionality during emergencies.
Historically, utilities have achieved economies-of-scale by building very large plants far from cities and using large overhead power lines for power delivery. Distributed generation via solar power, wind power, electric vehicles, and to some extent the availability of natural gas, have enabled distributed generation in urban areas. When these sources are connected to local loads and can be isolated, a microgrid is formed.
Focus on the Future
The “Internet of Things” is a key emerging technology that makes microgrids interesting in a dynamic and grid-interactive way. Just as the internet stimulated massive change, granting people unprecedented access to communication and information, the “Internet of Things” provides the sensors, control theory, and the actuation needed for equipment (things) in remote locations to interact with human guidance. This technology development promises to permit the microgrid to balance the available power and load dynamically in small fractions of a second. The UT Microgrid Research Team is inventing the future, in which your house will determine power reduction adjustments and ask you if it got it right.
Understandably, much of today’s microgrid activity focuses on how to use available equipment to build a microgrid. UT microgrid research appropriately has a longer term focus. The UT Microgrid Research Team is focused on determining how to design and operate better microgrids in the future.