For more than a hundred years the basic architecture of our electrical grid has remained largely unchanged. Big centralized power stations, normally located outside of a city, supplying electricity to homes and businesses via transmission stations, substations and power cables.
But that model of power distribution is changing.
New technology is enabling the use of power in smarter, more efficient ways, helping manage the load as increased demand puts more stress on the grid.
One way is by creating so-called microgrids – small, independent power grids that may be connected to the main grid but which in an emergency can operate independent of it.
In Chicago, one place with a fully-operational microgrid is on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology.
“At IIT when we built this system the primary reason was reliability,” said Dr. Mohammad Shahidehpour, director of the Robert W. Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation IIT and a specialist in creating and managing power systems, including microgrids. “Before we had this microgrid we spent quite a bit of time and money – energy basically – managing outages.”
Using a model of the university campus, Shahidepour explains the layout of IIT’s microgrid which it first began developing in 2008.
“What you see on the east side of the Green Line is mainly residential areas for students, faculty. And what you see on the northwestern part of the campus is primarily classrooms and down here is where I’m standing on the south side of the campus is a lot of research and a lot of operations,” he said.
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