The discovery of electricity was one of the biggest game-changers in history, and it drastically evolved the way people lived. Fast forward to this modern and hi-tech era, and it’s safe to say that majority of the world now relies on energy and machines powered by electricity to function.
While electricity has allowed people to advance the world, too much of it is a bad thing. Studies have shown that overusing energy leads to an increased carbon footprint via the burning of fossil fuels and the subsequent release of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. Besides air pollution, the adverse effects include water pollution, health problems, loss of wildlife and natural habitats, and global warming.
To sustain the current and future generations, it’s time to think of greener alternatives when it comes to electricity production and consumption. Not only that, but people need an energy source that’s stable and reliable.
Fortunately, such a thing exists: the microgrid.
What is a Solar-Powered Microgrid?
A solar microgrid is a small, freestanding power source that consists of a network of electrical loads, generators, energy storage batteries, and solar photovoltaic systems. It is usually connected to a traditional centralized grid (macrogrid) but can operate on its own when needed.
Macrogrid (Traditional Grid) vs. Microgrid
Most residential and business establishments are connected to macrogrids. These are centralized electric power distributors, like a power plant, that provide people with electricity, which, in turn, they pay for through monthly bills for its services, whether it’s for home or office space. If there’s a power outage, you have no choice but to wait for the macrogrid to resume supplying energy to your area.
Meanwhile, microgrids are more of a small distributed power source, either used in a small community or a manufacturing facility. It powers one to a few buildings or homes that are connected to it. In the event of a brownout, you can rely on a microgrid to power up your area while waiting for the primary electricity provider to go back online.
Below are some more facts about solar microgrids and how this energy source can change the way people use electricity.
Why is a Solar-Powered Microgrid Beneficial?
- A reliable alternative power source – In the event of a power outage, having a backup energy source doesn’t just prove to be beneficial, but essential. For large-scale businesses like hospitals, having this type of energy source can save a life. Solar microgrids can disconnect (or “island”) from the main grid when it fails. It uses generators and batteries from renewable energy to serve its customers until power in the primary grid is back online.
- Greener energy source – Since a solar microgrid relies on renewable energy sources, it doesn’t need to burn fossil fuels and emit more hazardous gases that can be detrimental to the earth. As such, it’s an eco-friendly option and helps the production and use of energy become sustainable over time, without the added disadvantages of using too much power.
- Improves local energy distribution – Microgrids are useful in delivering energy to remote places that the main grid cannot reach. An initial design plan is created to identify the best place to install the microgrid within the area. Once the microgrid is set up here, it can efficiently deliver power to infrastructures connected to it.
- Reduces main grid “congestion” – Sometimes, the central grid can’t keep up with the demand of the people using it. When this happens, it either runs out of power or reaches its maximum load and temporarily cuts off power. Having a solar microgrid can offload the main grid and reduce the energy demanded from it. You also won’t have to suffer the effects of the central grid’s congestion should it happen.
- Cost-effective energy source – A solar microgrid is a smart energy system that regulates energy generation and consumption, thus making it not only cost-efficient but reliable, too. This reliability, which prevents power outages, helps businesses save money from losses due to temporary unproductivity.
- Promotes economic growth – With power continuously on, solar microgrids can benefit the economy in the following ways: a) prevents loss and delay of work due to power outages, b) attracts investors to a location, and c) keeps jobs running within a community.
- Faster installation time – Microgrids are easier to install than traditional grids and power plants, thus quickly addressing the electrical needs of communities and areas that are most in need. Instead of waiting for the macrogrid to service your area, a microgrid can help you with your energy needs.
5 Types of Microgrids
- Campus microgrid – As the name suggests, this type of microgrid powers up university or corporate campuses. Its focus is to combine the power from the main grid and microgrid to manage power outages and energy needs.
- Community microgrid – This microgrid can service up to a few thousands of customers, depending on the location. A prime example would be a small residential area or village. In a community microgrid, houses that have a microgrid can supply the excess energy they’ve generated to their neighbors.
- Military microgrid – This microgrid powers up an army base without having to rely on the central grid. If a base suffers from a power outage, their physical and cybersecurity may be threatened. Microgrids prevent hacks or attacks from happening. The US military is set to become the largest military microgrid in the world.
- Island microgrid – In countries or areas where different regions are composed of islands, the central grid can’t service all locations. In this case, having an island microgrid is more feasible and cost-efficient. Alcatraz, one of the largest microgrids in the US, and Palau, the largest in the world, are good examples of island microgrids.
- Remote microgrid – Remote microgrids are similar to island microgrids in that they never connect to the primary grid. This type serves areas that are too isolated or have never had electricity before. In fact, 70% of the world’s microgrid global capacity comes from remote commercial and industrial use.
Components of a Solar Microgrid
- Solar Panel – This critical component of the microgrid absorbs and produces the energy from the sun, a renewable resource. There are two types of solar PV technologies used for this: a thin film or crystalline. Crystalline panels (monocrystalline or polycrystalline) are more widely used due to their higher efficiency.
- Mounting – To use space efficiently, the mount of your microgrid has to be strategic. It can either be on a pole mount, where panels are arranged vertically, or a ground mount, where they are side by side. The former takes up less space than the latter.
- Inverters – Inverters convert the direct current (DC) from the sun to alternating current (AC) recognized by electrical lines in buildings and homes.
- Charge Controller – Charge controllers ensure that the current charging your battery is at the right voltage. Without them, the battery bank can break. It optimizes power by converting high DC to a low charge voltage.
- Battery Bank – How does a solar microgrid work even when the sun isn’t out? The answer is a battery bank. Think of it as your solar microgrid getting charged by the sun, so you can use it when you need it the most.
The Road Towards Smart, Sustainable Energy
Solar microgrids are poised to change the way the world generates and consumes energy. A single microgrid can provide cheap, clean, and stable electricity to those connected to it. A lot of them can transform the way people use energy in the future.
The future isn’t as far away as you think. If you’re intrigued by all the things a solar microgrid or solar panels can do for your home or your business, SolarNRG can help. With experts from planning to installation, you can contact us today for solar panel inquiries.