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Path to Zero
2.02 - Are Microgrids the Answer to a Cleaner, More Resilient Electric Grid?
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A cleaner electric grid is seen as a key element to reducing carbon in the atmosphere. Interest in microgrids is growing because of their ability to incorporate renewable and low carbon energy sources, as well as sustain electricity service during natural disasters.

In this episode of Path to Zero, Host Tucker Perkins welcomes Michael T. Burr, Executive Director of the Microgrid Institute.

show notes

Before starting Microgrid Institute in 2013, Burr was a journalist covering the energy industry and then served as communications director for the National Independent Energy Producers trade association. He says the initial vision for Microgrid Institute was to create an advocacy group to help ease the transition and overcome the barriers that were standing in the way of microgrids.

Are microgrids changing the game?

According to Burr, microgrids are not displacing the utility industry, but they are able to provide service to customers in a way that they haven’t been able to get previously.

Any small-scale, localized power station that has its own generation and storage resources can be considered a microgrid.

Microgrids are typically supported by generators or renewable wind and solar energy resources and are often used to provide backup power or supplement the main power grid during periods of heavy demand.

Microgrid Advantages:

  • Efficiency – The source of generated electricity is close to the use need
  • With fewer load sources, demand on the microgrid infrastructure is less than a typical grid
  • By being smaller and closer to source demand, the system has higher reliability and is able to respond to demand more quickly
  • With local control, both design and future planning are specific to the needs of the entities participating in the microgrid
  • The microgrid can shut itself off from the main grid, making it is less vulnerable to outside attacks, cyber or physical

Case Studies

In this conversation with Tucker Perkins, Burr provides an overview of some of the projects Microgrid Institute has supported recently.

San Pasqual Band Microgrid-Southern California

California’s San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians (SPBMI) in San Diego County is building a hybrid microgrid that would supply electricity to essential buildings during utility outages. The microgrid is primarily solar with canopies mounted over a large parking structure with battery storage and propane generators.

Layout of the microgrid at the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians Reservation in Southern California

The project was initiated after numerous power shut offs to millions of Californians by utilities in an attempt to avert wildfires. A substantial number of wildfires in the state have been linked to utility transmission lines and equipment. That has resulted in an increase in activity within the state by microgrid developers.

The San Pasqual microgrid will provide resilient electricity service for the Tribal Administration Campus, including six buildings that are essential to the tribe’s health and safety. In the event power outages occur over a few days, Burr says the batteries could get drained. In order to keep their vital systems going at their tribal administration campus, propane generators are available to provide power at nighttime and to recharge those batteries so they can continue to operate.

Red Lake (Minnesota) Wildlife Management Area Microgrid

Burr also discussed a microgrid project in the Red Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) near Minnesota’s border with Canada. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) selected a team led by Microgrid Institute to design and engineer a hybrid renewable/fossil-fueled microgrid at the 324,000-acre site.

The microgrid will integrate renewable power and energy storage capacity together with propane generation to maintain reliable energy service for DNR operations.

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