USING MICROGRIDS FOR ENERGY PRODUCTION

The India Infrastructure magazine, Powerline, has published an article on the role of Microgrids for increased energy production. The report touches on the increasing role of microgrids in the industry, the enhancing of energy access, smart integration, and the global growth of microgrids in the world. Some of the key points from this article have been summarised here. 

Introduction

Microgrids have recently emerged as one of the main technologies in the energy production market. With their ability to generate power from both conventional power sources and renewable energy, they can prove to be a sustainable solution to the increased global demand for energy. For those of you wondering, a microgrid is a small, independent energy network which can provide electricity to local communities remotely. The key drivers of the microgrid market have been an unreliable main grid, lack of electricity in rural and remote areas, and various government needs to meet their renewable energy targets.

Microgrids are mainly installed in areas where the grid is not accessible or has limited penetration. These areas usually have rough topographies or face extreme weather conditions (hurricanes, cyclones, etc.) In cases like these, microgrids will not only be able to provide connectivity but will also ensure 24×7 power supply to the local communities. Microgrids in India are largely based on hydro, gas and diesel, with some installations based on renewable energy sources including biomass, wind, and solar. With the ongoing climate crisis, the focus has now shifted to solar power-based microgrids with energy storage capabilities.

Applications

For states like Jharkhand, Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, and Bihar, microgrids can be especially helpful as these states do not allow grid extensions. In 2017, two villages in Bihar, Tayablur and Behlolpur, were provided access to electricity with the installation of microgrids by Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited. Future applications can involve the installation of microgrids in the Andaman and Nicobar islands and in Lakshadweep as well.

Microgrids have also found numerous industrial and commercial applications like providing uninterrupted power to hospitals and defence establishments in remote locations. They can also be deployed to support coastguard installations and port development projects in places with extreme weather conditions. A huge advantage that microgrids have is their ability to isolate themselves from the utility during a grid disturbance. This is extremely helpful in the case of interruptions due to faults or natural disasters as the microgrids can provide resilient backup power, and since they supply power to small areas, they have the potential to help reduce power losses. Another application can be the installation of car batteries in the microgrid to store energy and supply it when needed to meet electric vehicle (EV) charging requirement.

Renewable-based Microgrids

Renewable energy microgrids have been deployed by the government of India to increase energy access for the population living in remote areas where central grid connectivity is limited or unavailable. They will also serve as cleaner power generators that are safer and more cost-effective than diesel and kerosene generator sets. Further, renewable-based microgrids can play a significant role in achieving renewable energy targets and reducing carbon emissions.

Among renewable energy technologies, solar photovoltaic (PV) energy is often the most viable option to set up a microgrid. A solar-powered microgrid consists of many solar PV generation units that can be coupled with energy storage. It can operate both independently or by connecting to the main power grid. They will also result in additional savings by bringing down investment costs in transmission and distribution infrastructure. Once a solar microgrid is coupled with energy storage, it provides round-the-clock power. Rapidly declining battery prices and increasing solar deployments have made solar microgrids a feasible solution. Wind energy-based systems are not economical for smaller installations and are only used at the megawatt scale. Biomass and micro-hydro energy can be used in multi-kilowatt scale projects.

Smart Microgrids

Microgrids are soon becoming smarter and more advanced. A smart microgrid is built upon the smart utility grid architecture and contains all essential elements of a conventional grid. It also contains intelligent energy management software and hardware that will be able to balance energy supply and demand reliably. The use of information and communication (ICT) solutions such as sensors and automatic communication controls enhance the energy management process and optimise system operations. The smart microgrid will be able to ensure maximum utilization of renewables, controlling and forecasting, real-time data acquisition, and will assist in outage minimizations. 

Further, microgrid controllers enable the efficient management of various energy resources while also facilitating the connection or disconnection from the main grid.

To help in realising the full potential of smart microgrids, energy storage systems (ESS) can be used. When production exceeds consumption, the energy is stored to meet the power demand when needed. This will help lower overall energy costs in addition to providing cleaner energy production. At the moment, ESS include batteries (lithium-ion, sodium-ion, etc.), pumped hydro storage, compressed air energy storage, and high-speed flywheels. In India, four microgrids based on solar power with lithium-ion battery energy storage systems have already been commissioned by BSES Yamuna Power Limited (BYPL) in March 2019. The plant, which consists of 5-7 kW rooftop solar panels and 7-10 kWh batteries, has been procuring only 8% of its requirement from the main grid.

Global Deployment of Microgrids

The global deployment of microgrids is on the rise. The company Navigant Research has identified 2,258 microgrid projects representing 19,575 MW of planned and installed capacity as of 2018. Remote microgrids represent almost 40% of all microgrid capacity globally with a total of 7,604.4 MW followed by commercial/industrial with 5,542.9 MW and utility with 2,307.9 MW. The focus of global microgrid markets is now the reduction of capital costs and the production with greater standardization. Newer microgrids are designed to reduce diesel fuel consumption by integrating solar PV, distributed wind or hydropower. In 2018, the global market for remote microgrids is about $3 billion in implementation spending. This figure is expected to jump to $10.2 billion by 2027.

Conclusion

Microgrids are already enhancing the current global energy landscape by ensuring sustainable development and energy access for people affected by an adverse power supply. India, with its favourable wind and solar conditions, is an ideal place for the development of microgrids. With this in mind, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has issued a draft titled the National Policy for Renewable Energy-based Micro and Mini-Grids in 2016. This policy aims to develop 10,000 mini- and microgrids with an aggregate capacity of 500 MW by 2021 by making the tariff determination process more flexible. According to industry experts, while North America leads the microgrid market today, Asia-Pacific is likely to emerge as a global leader for smart microgrid deployment, owing to its huge population that does not have access to conventional grid electricity.


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