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Looking Forward: Microgrid & Distributed Generation Trends in 2018

We recently explored the many ways in which solar-plus-storage systems are poised to make great advancements in 2018. Through newer, more efficient and cost-effective technologies, increased competition, and a renewed focus on and conversation about energy security, the market for solar-plus-storage systems continues to heat up. But what’s the next step?

As solar-plus-storage technology grows in popularity and implementation, many solar industry experts are turning their attention towards innovative models for individual and community power generation and distribution. Distributed generation systems and microgrids are a logical outgrowth of proliferating solar-plus-storage opportunities. Let’s take a look at the trend forecasts for the upcoming year and what they indicate about the future of microgrids and distributed generation.

Microgrids & Distributed Generation

Industry news source Solar Novus Today identified microgrids as their number one trend to watch going into 2018. The differentiating factor between ”regular” (grid-connected) solar installations and microgrids, they explain, is that “in the event of a power outage, a microgrid will still supply power to the homes or businesses to which it is connected.” Microgrids provide greater energy security and independence for the communities that they serve, whether grid-connected or not.

Currently, power consumers (that is, all of us) must go through utility companies to access the energy that we need. It’s an outdated system that encourages dependence on traditional, centralized sources of power such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. This model also requires a large, complex infrastructure to support the transmission of power across long distances, removing consumers even further from the source of their power and introducing the potential for large-scale power outages.

Distributed generation, a model that decentralizes power production and eliminates much of the need for elaborate distribution infrastructure, is a radical-seeming concept that has been demonstrated to positively affect the communities in which it is implemented. For example, Ocracoke Island, North Carolina benefitted from its microgrid in the summer of 2017 when the power lines running to the island were severed by accident. As GreenBiz reports, “While the transmission line was out of commission for seven days, the microgrid helped provide power for island residents.”

Spurred by events such as this, as well as the massive storms that knocked out power for both island and mainland residents in 2017, the conversation around microgrids and distributed generation continues to gain steam. Forecasts for 2018 indicate that increasing the energy security and resilience of homes and businesses through microgrid adoption will become more common, providing further evidence that it is the innovative power generation and distribution model of the future.

Trends Impacting Microgrid Development

An insightful series of articles from HOMER Energy explores the trends that will impact microgrid development in 2018, providing a fascinating look into the emerging technologies that are facilitating its rise. The first of these trends is the falling price of solar-plus-storage systems, which empowers more consumers to move away from utility and grid dependence. This shift in the way energy systems are being used indicates a future in which new models of power production and distribution can more easily take hold among forward-thinking consumers.

In addition, HOMER brings attention to the development and testing of Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS), which provide better integration between solar (or wind) power generators and the grids they are connected to. “Software, electronics, and microelectronics developers are stepping up to the challenge with a myriad of new products,” HOMER notes, “And they’re doing it faster than anyone expected… making grids smarter, while also making it possible to add more solar and wind resources to the mix without destabilizing the grid.” Continued innovation and greater competition for these technologies will speed the development and adoption of distributed generation and microgrids.

Another major trend with exciting applications for distributed generation and microgrids is the interest in using blockchain technology to create new energy markets. Blockchain, the “distributed ledger” technology that was developed to facilitate the exchange of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, offers a platform for trading, sharing, and monitoring potentially any commodity. Applications in the energy sector include “managing small-scale energy trading in networks of microgrids,” which “could promote the growth of distributed energy systems,” HOMER explains.

Microgrids As a Service

All of these trends, HOMER says, point toward the emerging phenomenon of “microgrids-as-a-service,” in which solar companies provide consumers with a package of technology designed to make microgrids easy to implement and manage. While this trend remains on the horizon, it could enable new financing arrangements that further incentivize consumer adoption of microgrids and distributed generation.

At Solar Design Studio, we’re excited to see the conversation around microgrids and distributed generation continue to expand. As new technologies further enable microgrid adoption and bring the possibilities offered by microgrids into the mainstream, we look forward to serving more clients who are ready to embrace greater energy independence and security.

If you’d like to learn more about microgrids and distributed generation, or start a conversation about your energy future, contact us today!

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