In what is becoming a harbinger of things to come, a regulated utility has created self-styled electric grid to service its remote campus outside Dallas. While Oncor Electric is still sending electrons to its 7.5 million customers throughout Texas using high-voltage transmission lines, it decided to construct its own microgrid to bolster reliability.
Centralized networks were designed a century ago as the most efficient way to generate and deliver electricity to the masses. While they will remain paramount to the distribution of electricity, the reality is that it is politically difficult to expand them. Even more significantly, businesses that cannot afford even a momentary disruption in power must look to new technologies that include distributed generation and microgrids.
Improving power reliability and optimizing generation assets requires disruptive technologies that allow customers to work on and off the grid, says David Chiesa, director of microgrids at S&C Electric, which along with Schneider Electric, built the Oncor project. Oncors microgrid is showing the world how utilities can help their communities in the future.
As for Oncors microgrid that became operational this month, the goal is to maintain continual power and to maximize the use of renewable fuels. While it can operate totally independent of a large central generator, other industrial campuses can choose to stay connected to such utility-provided electricity all the time or until the lights flicker out. Thats when their distributed, or onsite generator, will kick on. The electrons are then sent by microgrids to keep those operations running.
The concept is catching on nationally, namely among those businesses that cannot afford even momentary losses of power: hospitals and chip makers, to name two, and even the U.S. Department of Defense.
Central to the concept of onsite generation that links with microgrids is energy storage, which can harness electricity and release it on to the localized microgrid when it is needed. Such storage is not just used to keep network operations flowing smoothly but it can also help spur green energy development. Oncor is using a small battery developed by Tesla Motors.
Microgrids are getting the attention of utilities, not as potential threats but as a possible complement to their business models. Its all part of their smart grid layout, which seeks to beef up cyber security, reduce emissions and cut costs.
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