Microgrids - the path to new electricity

Energy            Science & Technology

Microgrids - the path to new electricity

Cleaner and more resilient energy grid - Microgrids - technology set to transform electricity


The current global environmental scenario demands generation of carbon-free electricity while putting a stop to the burning of fossil fuels. The most potential renewable energy sources are now wind and solar, for which we need to depend on the weather.

Recent blackouts in the events of Hurricane Irma and Maria, shows we need more resilient and cleaner grids – grids which will get back up and fully functioning after such disastrous events.

This is where Microgrid comes to the rescue. A microgrid is a small, localised group of power sources that operate in sync to the traditionally bigger macro grid but has the ability to function autonomously according to the required environmental or economic situation.

A fire in a Pacific Gas & Electric distribution substation in San Francisco in the April of 2017 triggered a seven-hour power outage in the city's busy downtown, knocking out traffic signals, shutting businesses and halting the city's iconic cable cars, situations like these can easily be averted by installing and keeping microgrids as backup options.

Microgrids, not only act as a back-up in cases of disasters & calamities but they provide a huge set of advantages as well. Microgrids can be a plug-and-play solution. Their modular nature will make them easy to install and run in remote and hard to access geographic locations. They can even integrate with the conventional diesel and gas, also the renewable sources such as wind, hydroelectric, tidal, solar photovoltaic and even thermal sources of heat and power (CHP) combined with energy storage. Such technology ensures that the natural balance and growth with green or clean energy providing steady access to electricity while reducing emissions. The other advantage of a microgrid is that it is locally controlled, which leads to better management and consumption along with a reliable supply.

Conventional microgrids in India are the hydel (micro-hydro-electric) power sources, with the oldest power plant traced back to Sidrapong Hydel Power station, located at an altitude of about 1100mt at the base of the Arya Tea Estate around 12kms from Darjeeling Town and was commissioned in 1897. It consisted of two 65-kW single-phase alternators (2,300 V, 83.3 Hz) and was later upgraded to 1,000 kW to cater to the needs of the residents in the town and neighbouring tea gardens.

Microgrids need to work with the larger grids. Smart microgrids need to provide grid services such as storing energy for backup or smoothing out the frequency and voltage fluctuations. It can also provide power to the larger and surrounding grids. The smart microgrid will also enhance the grid-customer interaction by smart metering and real-time pricing. Small community scale electric generators are getting cheaper, cleaner and more diverse. Microgrids are the answer to boosting the resiliency of central public and private infrastructures.

In the year 2014, the Global Himalayan Expedition team installed a total of 190 micro-grids with a capacity of 34.8kW, which helped a 2500-year-old monastery in the Ladakh region of the Himalayas to use power for the first time.

The Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy's drafted a new policy framework for the rural electrification in India in June 2014 and it aims to create up to 500 megawatts of capacity by 2019. According to the Navigant research report (2015), the microgrid market is expected to grow over 3.5 times between 2015 and 2020 worldwide. Approximately about 1500 projects that signify nearly 13,400 megawatts of power are proposed, planned, under construction or operating worldwide. By the end of 2014, the countries with the most total installed renewable electricity capacity were China, USA, and Germany followed closely by Italy, India, Japan and Spain.

There are still a few operational challenges to the microgrid development industry that needs to be designed and controlled in order to ensure that the present levels of reliability are not significantly affected. Bidirectional power flows, the prevalence of three-phase balanced conditions, constant power loads and low inertia are some of the issues that still need to addressed.

With the advent of time and technology, electricity is becoming more controllable and adaptable. They can even communicate over the internet. Some microgrids of today, rely on diesel generators and create a horrific amount of pollution. The aim here is the production of clean and green reliable power, the one in which the carbon emission is as least as possible. This microgrid concept using clean renewable energy sources is a building block towards the future energy scenario for a long-term feasible solution of energy demands and challenges.