Are Microgrids the Answer to Utility Power Outages?

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Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida Coast in 2016 with powerful winds, torrential rains, and devastating storm surges. Winds topped over 100 MPH and left over 1 million people without power, which may not return for days. With such powerful storms becoming the norm, many people are beginning to wonder what can be done to help prevent the loss of power along with other utility services that people rely upon.

In response to earlier natural disasters, many companies have begun considering Thomas Edison’s idea that DC power should be generated and distributed through local grids.

In 1882, Edison’s first power plant was constructed – the Manhattan Pearl Street Station. By 1886 Edison’s team had installed almost sixty direct current grids. Today, these Edison-like power systems are known as microgrids.

Microgrids are built of multiple interlocking parts such as renewable energy, combined heat, and power, energy storage, a point of common coupling and a centralized control system.

They provide energy that is clean, and at a more affordable cost. Microgrids produce energy that is cleaner than what is produced by the central grid because it doesn’t rely on coal-fired power. These systems draw energy from solar panels on rooftops and batteries in basements.

Along with keeping a centralized power source up and functioning, microgrids can also save communities money, since the wind and solar power incurs no fuel cost.

Cities are not the only ones who can benefit from systems like these. In fact, microgrids are being implemented around the world.

After Hurricane Sandy, New York University was the only area in Lower Manhattan to continue running. Why? The University had invested in a microgrid and was able to generate its power.

In 2016, Black & Veatch won and Edison Gold Award the microgrid that was built into its new world headquarters located in Kansas City, Missouri. The HQ microgrid serves as a living laboratory, filled with cutting edge technology and provides an example as to what utilities, communities, and companies around the world can develop to provide power during natural disasters.

Are microgrids the future of power generation? That is a question left to be answered, but Hurricane Matthew is a harsh reminder of the dangers of massive outages, and that a better solution is needed to provide power autonomously off the main grid.

 

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Mellissa Hopkins

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