Think Microgrid: The Local Energy Revolution

Think Microgrid: The Local Energy Revolution

A kind of collective ah ha is driving North America toward a more distributed grid, what some call local energy. Businesses, industrial facilities, institutions and cities are realizing the value of taking control over their energy supply.

Local energy promises lower costs, more reliable electric supply, storm resiliency, reduced pollution, greater efficiency, community economic development and jobs, and less forfeiture of open space, habitat and aesthetics to big power plants and transmission lines. Local energy gives communities and businesses the ability to determine their energy future, rather than rely on large, distant corporations, sometimes operated by companies in other states or even countries.

Microgrids are central to this move toward local energy in the United States and Canada.  Although theyve been around for a century, microgrids are particularly attractive in their contemporary form because they bring updated technology and extraordinary intelligence to energy management.

These mini versions of the larger grid also are highly energy efficient, particularly when they employ a form of distributed energy known as combined heat and power (CHP).

This guide, our second in the Think Microgrid series, paints a picture of the emerging microgrid-driven world, with CHP at its core.

What exactly is CHP? If youre not familiar with it or only vaguely aware youre not alone. Its reputation remains under the radar screen, especially compared with solar and wind energy. Yet CHP is a far more proven form of distributed energy that goes back to Thomas Edisons day and can be found in cities and at hospitals, colleges, hotels, petrochemical facilities, manufacturing companies and many other sites where large amounts of energy are consumed. For a long time CHP seemed like the best-kept-secret of energy insiders. Thats begun to change as government leaders push for more CHP from mayors to the highest offices. In fact, President Barack Obama has set a goal for the U.S. to add 40 GW of CHP by 2020.

Also called cogeneration, it is often extolled for its two-for-one advantage. CHP derives twice as much energy from the same amount of fuel as does a conventional power plant. Think of it this way. Spend one dollar on fuel to operate a conventional power plant and you derive a certain amount of electricity. Spend one dollar of fuel to operate a CHP plant and you derive the same amount of electricity, plus heat energy that you can use to heat or cool buildings, manufacture products, or use in some other heat-intensive process.

In addition to CHP, this guide focuses on a closely allied technology, district energy (DE). These systems, too, are big part of the emerging microgrid story. District energy offers tremendous energy and environmental advantage. In brief, a district energy system supplies steam or hot water for space heating and chilled water for air conditioning through an underground piping network, enabling connected customer buildings to avoid installation of  boilers, chillers and cooling towers. The thermal grid creates an economy of scale that facilitates deployment of CHP and other highly efficient or renewable technologies.

District energy often incorporates CHP. And when microgrid capabilities are added to CHP/DE systems, they operate with a new level of sophistication, one that offers cost savings and revenue potential.

Microgrids, CHP and district energy share a common slice of the energy market one that creates a new value proposition for the energy consumer. Their slice of the energy world is very much about energy efficiency and enhanced reliability and its a slice thats getting bigger and more important.


SMART GRID Bulletin March 2018

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