Navigant Research Blog

Devastating Storms Make the Case for Microgrids

Peter Asmus — November 6, 2012

Hurricane Sandy underscores a compelling reality: today’s power grid is wholly inadequate for today’s hyper-digitalized economy.  With more than 8 million people without power for a matter of days, not hours, momentum is growing for technology solutions, as described on this blog by my colleague Bob Gohn.

Recent evidence corroborates the notion that more severe weather is now business-as-usual.   According to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, 100 million to 200 million people were affected by weather-related disasters between 1980 and 2009, with economic losses ranging from $50 billion to $100 billion annually.  The March, 2011  earthquake and tsunami in Japan was just one obvious example during 2011.  (The Sendai 1 MW microgrid at Tohoku Fukushi University operated for 2 days in island mode while the surrounding region was without power.)  Such natural disasters underscore the need for resilient infrastructure for vital electricity services.

The U.S. power grid was graded a lowly D+ by the American Council of Civil Engineers in 2009.   Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) statistics show that 80% to 90% of all grid failures begin at the distribution level of electricity service.  The average outage duration in the United States is 120 minutes and climbing annually, while the rest of the industrialized world is less than 10 minutes and getting better.

It has become quite clear that the modern, digital economy requires a more advanced, robust, and responsive power grid framework than what we have today.  While many features of the smart grid can help manage outages and allow power to be restored much quicker than in the past, the most provocative technology that has evolved to mitigate the whims of Mother Nature is the microgrid.  Otherwise, potential on-site distributed energy resources (DER) solutions rooftop solar photovoltaic systems, combined heat and power plants, batteries and other storage devices (including electric vehicles) became stranded assets, going offline as the larger network of nuclear, coal, and natural gas plants also shuts down in the midst of a storm.  Incorporating distributed resources within an islanding microgrid can provide emergency energy services even as the larger grid awaits repairs and restoration.

The increasing frequency of severe weather is prompting utilities to reconsider their historic opposition to customer-owned microgrids that can disconnect from the larger grid and island, allowing critical mission functions to stay up and running.

Microgrid Capacity by Region, 4Q 2012

(Source: Pike Research)

Pike Research has now completed the Q4 update to its Microgrid Deployment Tracker.  All told, Pike Research has identified a total of 3.2 GW of total microgrid capacity throughout the world, up from 2.6 GW in the previous update in 2Q 2012.  As a region, North America is still the world’s leading market for microgrids, with overall planned, proposed, under-development, and operating capacity totaling 2,088 MW.  The microgrid solution to power outages extends to other regions of the world, including India and other regions where power grids are extremely weak, whether the weather is good or bad.

 

 

One Response to “Devastating Storms Make the Case for Microgrids”

  1. Dan Carazo says:

    I am currently managing customer communications and education re: a smart grid pilot program National Grid is launching in Worcester, MA. Then, came Sandy. While on storm duty here in Long Island, NY, where I live, the shortcomings of our power grid were made perfectly clear. Most consumers have no clue how outmoded our grid is. They also know very little about the advantages of smart meter technology grid upgrades — starting with automated outage reporting and grid self-healing.

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