The emerging power of microgrids

Categories: Analysis
Published on: July 8, 2014

ensia / Justin Gerdes / 03 July 2014

microgridsOver many decades, the centralized power grid — a one-way flow of electricity, generated by large, remote power plants and distributed over miles of transmission lines to homes and businesses — succeeded in delivering electricity across continents to billions. But in recent years the system’s shortcomings have become increasingly evident. The conventional grid is largely dependent on planet-warming fossil fuels. And because it’s so big and interconnected, it’s vulnerable to massive disruption by natural disasters and susceptible to physical or cyberattack. In August 2003, 50 million people in parts of Ontario, Canada, and eight U.S. states lost electricity when a sagging power line in a suburb of Cleveland touched an overgrown tree limb and malfunctioned, triggering a cascading sequence of events resulting in the largest blackout in American history. More recently, Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines have shown the havoc extreme weather can wreak.

Across the globe, regulators, policy makers and businesses are collaborating on creating a new and better electricity delivery system — one that will be more stable and secure, cleaner and cheaper, and able to accommodate larger shares of variable renewable energy sources. Prepare for the arrival of the renewable energy microgrid.