Microgrids – do we need them?

National grid

Microgrids could be part the UK’s energy supply network in the not too distant future.

So says Peter Jones, Technology Strategy Manager at ABB, the world’s largest supplier of power grids, who said recently that he saw microgrids as “part of a number of solutions” as the UK transitions from the traditional energy system that we have today.

Microgrids work locally and can be disconnected from the national grid to operate independently when necessary. They can help make the grid more resilient in case of disturbances or outages.

They should also make it easier to integrate newer forms of energy generation and supply, including renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. As new sources of energy become more efficient they’ll increasingly be incorporated into the network in a patchwork system that relies on a variety of power sources to fuel our homes and businesses.

As ever though, there are problems. The cost involved to set up microgrids may yet prove prohibitive and of course there are environmental concerns to consider. Energy storage is also a potential barrier, both in regulatory and also in practical terms, as the legacy systems need to be upgraded to operate efficiently with a series of microgrids.

In the longer term though, microgrids should be able to deliver savings to customers, as the cost of creating large, centralised plants could be spread among a range of smaller plants. This would also lessen overall disruption as changes are made and also allow for greater storage of energy, so it doesn’t have to be charged for at the rate of the day.

It’s also hoped that using local energy sources to serve local loads will help to reduce the amount of energy that can be lost in transmission and distribution. This should play a part in increasing the efficiency of power delivery and potentially reduce costs.

For now, the subject seems to be very much up for discussion, but it remains to be seen how much of our national grid will be able to benefit from the microgrid revolution.

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