How Solar Microgrids Can Prepare Us For Disaster

If you flip on the news at any given time, you’re likely to hear reports about intense storms, wildfires, terrorist activity, or types of disaster happening somewhere in the world. According to experts in green building, there is an increasing demand for resilient design in both residential and commercial construction.Solar Microgrid

One emerging and innovative technique involves solar-powered microgrids, which are small to moderate in size and have the capability to be isolated from the regional power grid in case of a widespread power outage. The concept of a “microgrid” reflects a new way of thinking about building and design. Microgrids focus on local energy delivery and meeting the precise needs of small, localized populations.

Where Are Solar Microgrids Built?

Over 50 military bases have created, or are in the process of creating, microgrids to maintain seamless operations after disasters strike. Universities and hospitals are also starting to create microgrids, and eight Connecticut cities plan to create them after being hit hard by Hurricane Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene.

With traditional power grids, the amount of electricity generated must be closely balanced with the amount of electricity consumed. Most generators can’t be turned on and off quickly, so it’s difficult to adjust the power supply during times of increased need or disaster. One company, Solar Grid Storage, aims to manage the output of solar-electric arrays and storing power to better balance the output and power availability from large, grid-connected solar-electric systems.

Benefits of Solar Microgrids

  • Power generation takes place close to where it is utilized
  • Reduces waste by capturing and utilizing escaped heat
  • Increase reliability through redundant distribution, automation, and power storage
  • Saves businesses and consumers money on costs associated with power outages
  • Helps communities and businesses prepare for their own future growth
  • Reduces carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions by utilizing renewable energy

Other Applications for Solar Microgrids

Since nearly 400 million residents in rural India lack access to grid power, solar microgrids are being used to power LED lights for home use and charge cell phones. One company, Mera Gao Power, deployed its first commercial power grid last summer, added eight more villages since then, and plans to expand to another 40 villages this year.Solar Micro Grid

In these villages, each household receives 0.2 amps for seven hours each night, which is enough power to charge two LED lights and a cell phone. These microgrids use 24-volt DC power, which allows aluminum wiring to be used instead of more expensive copper wiring that is required for higher voltage systems. Although this is no replacement for grid power, it is an immediate and affordable solution to a widespread problem.

During a time when natural and man-made disasters have become increasingly common, it is more important than ever to be prepared for the worst. And considering that U.S. Consumers and businesses pay more than $150 billion per year in costs because of power outages, microgrids hold the potential to procure power in communities across the country in an environmentally sustainable way and at significantly lower costs.

 

Photo credit: USACE HQ via Flickr; BSMPS via WikiMedia Commons

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