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What Does the Future Look Like? These Microgrids Point the Way

In our examination of solar industry trend forecasts for 2018, we highlight the increasing conversation around microgrids and distributed generation as the power generation, storage, and distribution prototype of the future. Microgrids, self-contained solar-plus-storage systems that may be connected to or independent from the existing power grid, are a logical next step in solar energy systems, especially considering the current proliferation of efficient battery storage and resource management technologies.

Whether they serve a single home or industrial building or an entire community, microgrids offer increased energy independence, efficiency, and stability for those who use them. These flexible, resilient micro versions of the traditional, utility-scale grids that have dominated cities since the industrial age offer us a vision of a potential future led by renewable energy sources.

What might that mean? Let’s take a look at a few examples of existing microgrids and the possibilities that they reveal.

Stone Edge Farm Microgrid

A recent article on Greentech Media focuses on the Stone Edge Farm microgrid in northern California. Vineyard and winery owners Mac and Leslie McQuown found an ideal location for their business, but the seclusion that attracted them as winemakers posed an expensive challenge. Running the necessary lines to connect to the grid operated by Pacific Gas & Electric was cost prohibitive. They would need to find another way to power their equipment or abandon their chosen location entirely.

The result of this dilemma is the Stone Edge Farm microgrid, “a 16-acre property that uses 10 different kinds of inverters, a fuel-cell ‘hive,’ and seven battery systems” alongside solar panels and a wind turbine to provide all the power it needs (here’s a detailed listing of all the microgrid’s components). The project was recently chosen to receive the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award given by the state of California.

Not only is the microgrid able to provide sufficient power to the large, complex farm and winery, it was a more economical choice than connecting the remote, unspoiled location to the existing power grid. The McQuown’s decision to implement a sustainable, independent grid to power their business made news when it “ran islanded for 10 days while areas around it experienced power outages and thousands of homes burned to the ground” during the recent wildfires that ravaged the area.

Had Stone Edge Farm been dependent on its connection to the grid, it would have been forced to completely shut down during the fires. Instead, evacuated employees were able to remotely control the microgrid, adapting to shifting conditions and implementing safety precautions from afar. Despite the smoke and ash, “the solar array remained at 50 percent of normal production” throughout the duration of the fires.

The Stone Edge Farm microgrid provides a powerful example for businesses and communities in remote areas or locations that are at high risk for fires, ice storms, hurricanes, or other natural disasters that result in the loss of power.

Rajanga Village Microgrid

Far from northern California, a microgrid is bringing power to those who previously lived without it. In India’s Rajanga village, residents now enjoy the ability to work at night, to play outside after dark, and to protect their homes from local wildlife, including elephants. As Yale Environment 360 reports, India is on the front lines of rural microgrid development. “With more than 300 million mostly rural Indians still waiting for power, it is home to one in four of the world’s off-grid people, more than any other nation,” they note.

As India seeks to bring light to its rural communities, it has embraced microgrids as the most economical, practical answer. Small communities across the country are being revitalized by the implementation of distributed generation systems that provide power to illuminate homes and public spaces. In addition, the arrival of electricity enables the modernization of agriculture, healthcare, and business practices.

Debajit Palit of The Energy and Resources Initiative “believes the only real prospect of getting electricity (to rural communities) any time soon will be through constructing stand-alone solar-powered microgrids.” There are still more than one billion people in the world who are living without electricity, and microgrids have emerged as the most effective and efficient way to bring it to them.

This Is What the Future Looks Like

These two contrasting examples reveal the vast potential of microgrid systems in a wide variety of applications. As the Stone Edge Farm microgrid proves, the greater adaptability, independence, and resilience resulting from microgrid adoption have an enormous impact on both the cost and function of power systems for businesses. In India, the Rajanga village microgrid is changing the lives of people who have lived without power for too long. Whether improving on existing power infrastructure or creating new opportunities for those who’ve never had it, microgrids offer flexibility, stability, and independence to those who use them.

At Solar Design Studio, we’re working toward a future in which microgrids are accessible to everyone. If you’re interested in learning more about microgrids for residential or commercial applications, contact us today!

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