Microgrids – Smart Grid Laboratories

Back in September 2009 I blogged about six rules that tell you when you have a Smart Grid.  The third rule is:  You know you have a Smart Grid when the transmission and distribution portions of the grid are optimized for distributed energy generation/storage.  This rule becomes reality when microgrids are ubiquitous.  The Smart Grid Dictionary defines a microgrid as:  “A small power system that includes self-contained generation, transmission, distribution, sensors, energy storage, and energy management software with a seamless and synchronized connection to a utility power system but can operate independently as an island from that system.”   

Business and academic campuses are excellent candidates for microgrid installations, and many already fulfill some capabilities in the definition above.  Microgrids can serve as living laboratories for the proliferation of technologies ranging from generation (especially renewables), transmission, distribution, building energy management, and data center energy efficiency.  Beyond the technologies, microgrids provide perfect settings for different communications strategies and outreach programs to encourage smart energy behaviors.  College campuses also have the added benefits of aligning microgrid projects with academic departments ranging from electrical, mechanical, chemical, and civil engineering to information and communications technologies (ICT) and public policy, economics, and behavioral science disciplines.  Just imagine the opportunities that exist at these intersections of need and innovation.

Here are three areas where I’d like to see academic campuses get involved:

1.  Data center efficiencies.  Cloud computing, the continued adoption of the Internet and new social media applications mean that more data centers will be built going forward, and they can’t be the energy hogs they are now.  Can new data center designs take advantage of the waste heat instead of expending energy to cool it or exhaust it out of the buildings?  Can new technologies make it useful heat instead of waste in both new and legacy data centers?

2.  Regulatory incentives for microgrid interconnection to utility grids.  The majority of states today do not make it easy to tie microgrids into the utility grids.  Standby charges are also disincentives, forcing microgrid operators to purchase standby power from utilities in case the microgrid generation shuts down.  What are the better models to encourage microgrid development while ensuring the overall reliability of power delivery for all utility grid customers?  What legislative, regulatory and tax policies work best to accelerate development of microgrids? 

3.  Social media applications.  The potential of social media to educate and influence human behavior regarding energy awareness and consumption is largely unexplored.  Students are natural adopters of social media, and are a great research population for companies interested in measuring the impacts of these applications into overall energy efficiency and energy management programs.  How can social media be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?  What programs will appeal to the broadest range of microgrid energy consumers?

To learn more about microgrids, join me at the Sustainable Silicon Valley/Santa Clara University Smart Microgrid event on February 23 to hear about this university’s project to upgrade their existing microgrid to a smart microgrid.

If your interests are focused on electric meters, the Metering, Billing/MDM America show in San Diego on March 7-10 has a conference agenda that delivers valuable information on the latest advances in meters and more.  This annual event draws innovating utilities, meter manufacturers, and thought leaders to discuss not only theory but reality in Smart Grid deployments.