Kas Mohammed, VP Digital Energy Schneider Electric UK&I looks at the rise of the reliable, sustainable microgrid.
The idea of a single, overriding grid is fast becoming obsolete. From energy generation and supply through to demand, how we look at energy is changing. Moving towards a decentralised model, we are beginning to put the power back in the hands of the end-user thanks to microgrids.
The microgrid market is predicted to reach £3.35 billion worldwide by 2026 and deployment is increasing rapidly in energy-intensive environments like healthcare, industrial operations, and data centres. 25.4% of UK and Ireland businesses claim to have already installed a microgrid/renewable power source in an effort to reduce their environmental impact and ensure a resilient, cost-effective power supply. So, what is a microgrid and how can it transform our energy generation and usage?
The microgrid basics
A microgrid is a localised energy system that interacts with the utility grid, encompassing one or more electric power generators and necessary energy management controls. It provides secure electricity to consumers, optimises electricity costs as peak power requirements are reduced, and has the potential to boost the economy by bringing electricity to remote, Tier 2 and Tier 3 regions, allowing small-medium businesses to grow. They provide an effective way to react to power outages or unexpected peaks in demand, as they operate independently from the larger grid.
A modern microgrid takes advantage of a variety of distributed energy resources (DER), coordinated by a smart, automated microgrid control system – a true example of Electricity 4.0 (the combination of electricity and digital capabilities) in action. They can pull together all energy loads that are critical or of interest to how the site is run, and data from your on-site generation and the grid. This information can be combined with real-time energy prices to minimise energy costs, and weather forecasts to predict the impact of weather events on your on-site generation capabilities. For instance, utilising solar power on a sunny day.
During the pandemic, temporary services to increase capacity for infection screening for example, put increased pressure on critical power, so backup power systems quickly became essential. This, combined with more frequent power outages, has forced the healthcare sector to look more closely at their energy strategies and safeguard their electricity.
One of the key selling points of localised energy solutions, like microgrids, is their ability to make access to electricity more reliable. In sectors where continuity is essential, such as healthcare, microgrids are being adopted to drive power reliability across critical facilities.
Power reliability for hospitals continues to be transformed by the ongoing evolution of backup power solutions such as microgrids. For reliability and continuity, new power sources are needed to secure continuity of care should outages occur and to maintain code compliance. People's lives depend on a secure electrical infrastructure, from lighting to life support machines, and microgrids offer a more dependable power solution.
EV chargers are just the tip of the iceberg
Moving into the era of Electricity 4.0, we can see an unprecedented demand for energy. Digitisation, upgrades to HVAC systems to limit the spread of infection post pandemic, and ever-increasing patient numbers have driven a rapid increase in electricity demand, and with the rise in electric vehicles (EVs) this is set to continue.
When you install EV infrastructure, it's going to put more demand on your site, and you must prepare to cope with this new demand. An opportunity, from a site wide perspective, is when considering where to deploy your EV or renewable assets - make sure the infrastructure can support your plans. If you are going to invest heavily in renewable energy technology, make certain you get the best out of those assets by ensuring the distribution network associated with it is modern and has smart capability. That will also provide good visibility of the infrastructure requirements for EV assets.
If not now, at least prepare for the future
Looking to the future, to meet ever-increasing demand and achieve net zero, renewable and smart onsite energy production is vital. Selecting systems that are product and manufacturer agnostic, from a reputable supplier and have smart capabilities built in, allows you to connect and interact with any relevant assets in the future, preparing for a smart system, such as a microgrid, even if you are not ready for it yet.
Advances in digitisation and the Internet-of-Things are making power and building systems more intelligent and connected. By connecting the microgrid control system to the hospital’s building management system (BMS) and energy management system (EMS), you will enable the ‘flexibility’ of DER, including non-critical controllable loads (e.g. electrical vehicle charging stations), to be fully exercised to optimise energy, costs and reliability.
To achieve net zero by 2050, we must move towards Grids of the Future, with innovation, new products and software, and ingenuity from all involved. We must strategize, digitise, and decarbonise to ensure continuity and sustainability, and microgrids should be an essential part of new healthcare energy strategies. Reliability cannot be jeopardised, and we must ensure operational continuity and the level of power quality needed by sensitive equipment, or risk losing lives.