The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., is using its newest building – the Energy Systems Integration Facility – to test the latest microgrid concepts.
NREL is using the ESIF for work on devices that can intelligently manage energy from batteries, electric cars, wind, solar, and biofuels as it aims to move the US grid further towards an integrated system that can link together emerging consumer demands and clean energy resources without disrupting power supply.
Currently the US operates a highly centralized system. But with increasing use of renewable technologies such as solar and wind that provide fluctuating levels of energy the use of battery storage, for example, is key to “smooth out” the amount of energy flowing to the grid to meet, and not exceed, demand, NREL says. Instead of relying on fossil fuels, a smart microgrid can rely on wind, solar, and other alternative energies to get neighborhoods through those crucial hours of peak demand. Smart integration of a variety of components—both renewable and fossil fuel—can minimize expensive fuel use, while making the delivery of electricity cleaner and more efficient, NREL says.
Microgrids, which can run independently from the main grid, can also be useful in weather outages, a problem that is on the rise. The White House Council of Economic Advisers and the Energy Department recently released the report Economic Benefits of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience to Weather Outages, which calls for more investment in the electric grid and identifies strategies for modernizing the grid to better prevent power outages.
In the face of more and more extreme weather events, “islanded microgrids” that combine renewable energy with backup storage can keep local power going when the grid goes down, potentially saving both money and lives, according to NREL director Dan Arvizu.
Earlier this month, the Microgrid Alliance formed with the aim of bringing together parties that want to accelerate the growth of microgrids. Founding members include General MicroGrids, Landis+Gyr, Homer Energy, Alstom, Enbala, EarthSpark International, ESTA International, and Green Energy.