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What Are Microgrids?

Losses from utility power outages cost companies billions of dollars each year. Though backup generators can provide emergency power, they alone are inefficient in sustaining facilities as utility disruptions become more widespread and longer in duration due to extreme weather. A better solution is a solar microgrid, which allows companies to operate independently of the utility grid during brownouts and blackouts.

Microgrid Components

In basic terms, a microgrid is a standalone power network consisting of an energy source or sources that provide electricity to any number of loads. A microgrid can exist within and connect to larger grid architecture, or exist completely separate from the utility grid. Commercial microgrids, like an office building or factory with backup capabilities, are interconnected with the utility, meaning they draw electricity from the grid but can also satisfy its own power needs when the grid goes down. A solar microgrid commonly makes use of a solar photovoltaic (PV) array, battery storage, a generator, and some type of control system.

Under normal circumstances, a combination of utility electricity and electricity generated from the PV array is used to satisfy the facility’s power needs. But when there is a utility power failure, the facility is automatically separated from the utility grid (a capability called “islanding”) and is sustained through a mix of energy that’s generated and stored on site. During daylight hours, energy demand is fulfilled by the PV array. As system production tapers off toward sundown, stored battery energy is used to make up the difference. At night, the generator kicks on to power loads and recharge the battery. Once the sun is up again, the PV array takes over to power loads, and, if there is a surplus of energy, replenish the battery as well.

Microgrid Benefits

The most obvious benefit of microgrids is increasing energy resiliency by enabling a facility to power its operations even in the event of a full utility grid failure. This means there are no product or service losses or disruption to a company’s daily operations, all of which could result in serious financial repercussions. While a gas generator is required, using one as part of a microgrid solution is more financially and environmentally advantageous than traditional use cases. A generator needs to run less often when coupled with PV and battery storage. When it does run, it operates at full capacity opposed to powering up and down as onsite demand fluctuates. This amounts to lower fuel consumption and costs and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Microgrids aren’t just beneficial during power failures. With battery storage, a business can reduce its utility bill by using the stored energy during times of day when electricity is most expensive, as well as save on peak demand charges by reducing its maximum power consumption.

Examples of Microgrids

EnterSolar’s parent company, EDF Renewables North America, is a leader in distributed microgrid solutions. Most recently, EDF Renewables announced an ambitious Microgrid Infrastructure Project for the Port of San Diego. The 700-kilowatt (kW) installation is expected to yield more than $3 million in energy savings over the next two decades, and will provide backup power to critical infrastructure including a jet fuel storage system that is vital to the port’s operations. Five hundred miles north in Napa, EDF Renewables is implementing a microgrid project for Domaine Carneros. The 250-kW system will grant the award-winning winery a lifetime utility savings of $1.5M and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions during outages by 65%.

Microgrids are a superior solution for companies looking to increase their energy resiliency while reducing their overall energy costs, and we and our colleagues at EDF Renewables can design a system that’s just right for your business needs. If you’re interested in going solar but not ready to implement a full microgrid just yet, no problem. Contact us now at EnterSolar. We can schedule you a free consultation where we can discuss multiple options, from streamlined rooftop PV systems to more resilient solar-plus-storage solutions.

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