Supply in search of demand

2017-02-16 - Electrical Conductor (EC Magazine) article by Chuck Ross - February 2017
Microgrids are the hot new idea that’s been around forever. Thomas Edison’s first New York City power plants could be considered microgrids because those generating stations each acted independently from the others, serving their own “islands” of connected loads. Like much of the rest of our electrical systems, though, today’s versions are becoming much smarter. With control systems that can disconnect and resync to larger connected distribution networks almost instantaneously, microgrids offer both localized resilience and broader grid-support advantages for facilities and electric utilities.

Maxine Ghavi, global head of microgrids, ABB, Zurich, sees a similarly varied list of motivators for her company’s customers, both in the United States and around the globe.

“Resilience is one of the key drivers, and it may be the initial reason to consider a microgrid, depending on the sensitivity of that operation to disruption of service,” she said. “However, once a prospective customer begins to examine the case for a microgrid, they soon discover that there are many other value streams, such as reducing demand charges, peak shifting, demand response, frequency regulation and carbon displacement.”

For commercial and industrial companies, the primary drivers are some combination of return on investment, resiliency and power quality.

“If that is the case, it is all about the cost of power from the grid, versus the cost of distributed generation and the value that resiliency brings to that operation,” Ghavi said. “For some time now, many well-known businesses are making large commitments to renewable power, and as such, they evaluate locating it on site as part of a potential renewable microgrid strategy.”

Seeing opportunities for supporting such strategies, ABB recently launched a modular solution that pairs hardware and software controls with an expandable bank of lithium-ion batteries in a standard shipping container. The company calls this a plug-and-play solution and offers it in four pre-designed configurations that range from 50 kilowatts (kW) to 4,600 kW.

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