Microgrids: a critical solution towards powering a net-zero world

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What happens when the power goes out? Citizens could lose their ability to connect online for work or education, homes could be damaged due to lack of necessary heating or cooling, and access to medical treatment or other critical resources would be impaired. Businesses would have to close temporarily, the supply chain disrupted, and telecommunication outages would hinder all types of communications.

Power outages are sadly no longer news to many populations as the list of disruptions and impacts to safe and reliable power are seemingly growing each year with hurricanes, wildfires and floods, among other natural and humanmade disasters. These events can have devastating impacts where power outages are lasting for days to weeks, further slowing recovery. Energy security is essential for industries and their remote sites, and access to electricity is a  societal expectation to support day to day needs.

Energy demands continue to increase adding pressure to the grid. As we continue to respond to extreme weather events, growing population and the expanded requirement to learn, work and connect more online we must bridge the energy gap. This puts strain on an already aging power grid and continues to cause interruption. The continued outages are disruptive, expensive, and dangerous, but what if they are avoidable?

A proven solution that has been in practice for decades that negates the effects of natural and humanmade disasters is the implementation of microgrids. These small-scale power structures and their ability to disconnect from the grid  provide their own power locally and have been servicing some of the world’s most critical assets. Microgrids are commonly applied to support large businesses to maintain power supply during outages. Modern microgrids have been deploying renewable energy sources, using available new technology and are a necessary step for achieving ambitious and essential carbon reduction goals.

To provide these resilient systems, strengthen our communities and promote a carbon reduction plan, Wood’s  Vice President of Energy, Steve Kiser, says a different approach to power generation and delivery will be pivotal.

The need for resilient, reliable and accessible, as well as affordable renewable energy is more important than ever. Do these small-scale power structures have a place in the larger energy transition?

What is a microgrid?

What is a microgrid?

A microgrid is a group of interconnected electrical loads and small-scale power generation sources and storage within a defined footprint. They can be controlled and islanded from the larger grid to keep power flowing independently. Power generation sources are located close to where the electricity is used and efficiently minimises energy loss compared to power generated from sources further away.

Microgrids have been functioning for decades and are typically deployed for discrete systems or remote areas, including small communities and critical infrastructure such as military bases, medical facilities, police and fire buildings, and data centres. These systems continue to power these crucial assets during planned and unplanned power outages.

Wood has evaluated, designed and installed microgrids across North America and other regions to help our clients deliver reliable power for critical infrastructure. These microgrids have reduced disruptions, lowered carbon footprints, saved on energy costs and delivered sustainable solutions for critical community structures, security facilities, residential buildings, and businesses.

Powered by renewable energy

Microgrids are positioned to play a significant role in promoting the development and integration of renewables throughout the grid helping enable the energy transition. On-site power can be generated by any power source, and many microgrids deploy renewable or low-carbon resources such as solar panels, small wind turbines, geothermal power and combined heat and power (CHP).

The use of battery storage helps to provide consistent, reliable power from traditionally cyclical power generation sources like solar and wind, allowing microgrids to store energy to use when needed.  Storage also provides back up energy for use during energy spikes or post-emergency. A microgrid uses smart technology to distribute the power locally, island power off the larger grid and connect back to the larger grid for backup as needed.

Islanding for local independent power

A key component of a microgrid is its ability to isolate from the larger grid during outages and generate its own electricity to avoid local blackouts. When the main grid is disrupted, a microgrid swiftly activates and delivers electricity from local energy sources. This islanding from the larger grid allows a microgrid to continue supporting the original power demand of a given facility or community.

Islanding allows microgrids to be applied in remote areas, off the grid, that were historically powered by diesel generators, as recently used by United States National Park Service.

Islanding keeps access to electricity available which is critical for hospitals, government and military centres, and keeps data available and protected from cyberattacks.

Communities and municipalities can implement microgrids powered by independent energy sources and islanded from the grid to help avoid power outages in the future, mitigating the potential of devastating blackouts and emergencies of the past.

Applying resiliency to the future of energy

Providing reliable and affordable renewable energy, as well as mitigating grid disruptions by maintaining power for critical infrastructure and everyday energy uses, it is safe to say microgrids have a role to play in the energy transition.

Thanks to their small-scale, storage repositories and ability to employ multiple energy sources, microgrids are a good place to test, deploy and scale emerging renewable technologies such as hydrogen.

Microgrids also complement another emerging energy transition theme: electric vehicles (EVs). Batteries from EVs can be used as second life batteries for microgrid storage. EVs are part of energy storage in the local microgrid they serve, as they can load balance and store energy from the microgrid while sitting dormant at home.

Microgrids / solar panels

The  benefits of microgrids are invaluable – providing power to residences, critical businesses and communities when it’s needed most and to reduce interruptions to our daily lives. Maintaining reliable power reduces disruptions and damage, saves money and keeps our communities safe and connected. Wood has evaluated, designed and installed microgrids across the world to help our clients deliver reliable power for critical infrastructure. These microgrid solutions have reduced power disruptions, lowered carbon footprints, and saved energy costs all the while helping people to maintain their power needs.

Microgrids infographic

Wood’s solutions to provide access to reliable and resilient energy includes our tailored methodology that evaluates suitable power needs, determines the appropriate technology deployment for a microgrid, and provides the design and install of the system to meet established goals.

Significant power disruptions will continue - the flexibility provided by microgrid solutions are achievable and continue to play a critical role for a low carbon and resilient future.

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