By Michael Mock
The power outage that hit parts of Washington, DC and surrounding suburbs in April served as a reminder of how fragile our power grid can be and how dependent we are on uninterrupted electrical service. Losing your lights may be a hassle, but losing valuable data can be an economic disaster.
While the idea of protecting against power outages is not new, microgrids take the concept of protecting against power disruptions to the next level.
As defined by the U.S. Department of Energy, “A microgrid is a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island mode.”
Experts disagree on how rapidly and to what extent microgrids will be a part of the future energy market, but all agree microgrids will play a significant role in meeting future needs – providing power day-to-day, as well as providing increased resilience against future power outages.
“Resiliency” and “national power grid resiliency” are terms heard more frequently in the marketplace. While many national defense-related facilities have the capacity to become “energy islands,” municipalities are now doing the same. In fact, the Obama administration recently announced funding for over $8 million in microgrid projects to help cities and towns better prepare for extreme weather events and other potential electricity disruptions.
Two projects in Maryland were among those selected. The first involves designing and building a resilient microgrid to allow the Olney, Maryland Town Center to function normally as a “lights-on” district for weeks in the event of a regional outage. A second microgrid will be designed for multi-use commercial development in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
The Department of Energy’s description of microgrid construction and maintenance clearly calls for highly skilled contractors. While Pepco described the April power outage as a “dip in voltage,” the increasing demand for microgrids may well turn into a “rise in business” opportunities for NECA contractors.
Check out the newly updated Electrical Alliance website to find a contractor that’s right for your project- http://www.electricalalliance.org/.