How to make microgrids more efficient

What is a microgrid, and why it’s important

A microgrid is a localized, often independent source of electricity. There are several reasons why a microgrid is needed – most commonly a lack of local electricity or a need to generate electricity separately from the main grid.

Communities, plants or other facilities that are located away from any existing energy infrastructure often build microgrids, since that is the only way they can have a steady supply of electricity. Some research facilities also build micro grids, since they have a need of both a stable and large source of electricity and a secure network.

Whatever the reason for building it, a microgrid often serves a very important purpose and has to produce a lot of electricity without downtime or unexpected costs.

The different parts of a microgrid

Since the purpose of a microgrid is to produce a steady and reliable supply of electricity it is made up of several types of electricity providers. Generators that run on gas or diesel is one common type. Another useful technology could be fuel cells. Solar panels and/or wind turbines are often used as well.

Various forms of storage are also often a component of the microgrid, especially when renewable energy sources are used.

With the end goal to produce a steady supply of electricity the microgrid will utilize the different parts throughout the day (and night). Solar panels can be used when that is the best way to produce electricity, generators and storage may be used to provide larger quantities during peak hours, and so on.

Improving microgrids

But there are some important drawbacks in today’s microgrids – mainly in terms of energy efficiency and future-proofing.

The lack of energy efficiency centers around the waste heat produced by generators. No matter if they run on gas or diesel, they require cooling, and that means a lot of cold water that will end up as hot water. Currently, the hot water or heat is then dumped into the air or ground. Considering that microgrids often exist where electricity is at a premium, this is a waste of energy that must be stopped.

Future-proofing centers around sustainability issues. More and more countries are implementing new regulation around CO2 emissions. There is a very real risk that many of the microgrids in operation today will be shut down for not meeting these regulatory demands.

Although these two challenges may seem very different there is actually one solution that could solve both of them:

If the hot water or heat that is dumped today can be used to create electricity, that would significantly increase the efficiency of a microgrid. Increased efficiency equals higher output, which means less CO2 emissions.

Put another way – heatpower holds the key to making today’s microgrids more efficient.