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Microgrids could be a key component in smart grid's future

By Donna Donnawitz
March 22, 2012
Most of the world's infrastructure is built around critical utility systems that manage power delivery, sanitation and other key needs. In many cases, these solutions are intertwined, especially in the case of the power grid, as its role in providing electricity is vital to almost every other critical public utility. As a result, a major power outage not only cripples pockets of society for a period of time, it can also have widespread utility implications and can be extremely difficult to resolve because inconsistent power delivery hampers response efforts. According to a recent report included in an IEEE newsletter, microgrid technology could be the answer.

At its core, a microgrid is simply a small, compartmentalized utility grid that has access to all of the generators and other power delivery resources of a traditional grid, but at a smaller scale. This means that failure within this small-sized grid will affect fewer people, making it far easier to avoid major disasters when utility systems go down. The news source explained that microgrids currently make up a fairly small percentage of the overall utility system, but their popularity is growing.

Citing a Pike Research study, the IEEE newsletter explained that microgrid deployment will rise rapidly during the next few years. However, this prediction is weighted heavily by innovation in North America, where stimulus funding from 2008 is leading to rapid growth. While this could dampen global microgrid expectations, the report said that investments in Japan are showcasing the technology's potential and helping to fuel increased investments in the revolutionary utility grid system.

The idea of microgrids is definitely taking hold in more areas, but the actual deployment of the technology poses significant challenges. Heavily dependent on smart grid systems, the microgrid requires utility providers to invest in communications and control infrastructure that can pose significant engineering challenges. These issues can be overcome, but the news source explained that the process of deploying microgrids could be slowed by the difficulty of installing supporting technologies.

While microgrids, essentially a subset of smart grid systems, face a challenging adoption cycle, core smart grid solutions are rising quickly. Most experts agree that 2012 will be a transitional year for the revolutionary grid technology as many utility providers are ready for deployment and key innovation in the sector will switch from initial smart grid production to developing the right usage models to deliver the technology's core benefits.

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