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Remember the old beer commercial with the “tastes great….less filling” debate? Microgrids provoke a multitude of views in the USA.   For the Department of Energy, developing advanced microgrids holds the promise of building new electricity resources for customers, the community and the macrogrid. For the Department of Defense, microgrids deliver energy security for military bases and mobile operations. Massachusetts thinks of microgrids as enabling environments for regulatory reform. New York, in the midst of its initiative to redefine utility business models, considers microgrids as good platforms for distributed energy resources (DER). California, on the other hand, sees microgrids as crucial to supporting the integration of renewable generation into the grid.

Larisa Dobriansky, Senior Vice President, Legal, Policy and Regulatory Affairs for General MicroGrids has excellent perspectives on how microgrids can serve in these capacities. Based on her extensive knowledge of microgrid design and deployment around the globe, she notes that microgrids can become a third element in grid modernization efforts. Smart microgrids could help to contribute to a new flexible, resilient and transactive electric power value chain. Both upstream and downstream, smart microgrids could play a role in transforming our power system, using smart technologies to enable new functions and capabilities “end to end,” from source to sink.

Federal and State governments in the United States are funding pilots to assess how smart microgrids could be deployed strategically to harness cost-effectively the benefits of dispersed distributed resources and manage load; support markets for new resources; and apply information and communications technologies to advance intelligent distributed energy management strategies in developing new power infrastructure. However, sound policy enabling frameworks, at both the federal and state governmental levels, will be needed to support investments in smart microgrids – policy, legal, regulatory and institutional changes that can recognize and fully take into account the benefits and value that smart microgrid and distributed resource solutions can generate. To begin with, consistent definitions of microgrids and smart microgrids are needed.

Microgrids not only trigger different views of their primary benefits to a grid, microgrid definitions have been evolving too. A microgrid has traditionally been defined in the Smart Grid Dictionary as a small power system that integrates self-contained generation, distribution, sensors, energy storage, and energy management software with a seamless and synchronized connection to a utility power system, and can operate independently as an island from that system. Generation includes renewable energy sources and the ability to sell back excess capacity to a utility.

However, in developing economies, microgrids may be helping to eliminate energy poverty, and thus have a different degree of technological sophistication. The soon to be released 6th Edition of the Smart Grid Dictionary contains a new definition for a Smart Microgrid. It is a term used to differentiate the technological sophistication of a microgrid.   In developed economies with well-established grids, it is presumed that any microgrid embeds Smart Grid technologies. In the developing economies with immature grid infrastructure, a microgrid may contain distributed sources of generation, and energy storage but exclude the advanced communications overlay that makes a grid a Smart Grid.

As a side note, it is important to acknowledge that even in the case of off-grid rural electrification, “smart” (ICT) technologies could be deployed to help build smart clusters of villages through networks of distributed infrastructure consisting of local microgrid cells.

Larisa Dobriansky will be presenting some case studies in the Building Resiliency with Microgrids conference track managed by Christine Hertzog at European Utility Week on November 5. Join them there to learn more about the resiliency solutions that microgrids deliver on a global basis.

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    Microgrids provoke a multitude of views in the USA. Cue up the “tastes great….less filling” mock debate of that old commercial.

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