A Larger Role for Microgrids: Are Microgrids a Viable Paradigm for Electricity Supply Expansion?

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The other articles regarding microgrids appearing in this issue of IEEE Power and Energy Magazine have discussed various architectures, demonstration projects, operational and control principles, and economic and regulatory issues, all largely within the context of an existing highly developed utility infrastructure. Conceptually, all such microgrids may be viewed as a framework that addresses technical concerns accompanying necessary growing deployment of distributed energy resources (DER), especially small-scale combined heat and power (CHP) and small-scale renewable energy sources (RES), while meeting demanding requirements for power quality and reliability (PQR), achieved by incorporating modern controls that enable them to operate with a degree of autonomy from the traditional macrogrid. This conceptualization of microgrids embedded in distribution systems and within customer commercial or industrial facilities helping meet the growth of load in existing networks has evolved because microgrid capability has been overwhelmingly developed by and for applications in highly developed economies; however, the existence of microgrid technology might also alter the trajectory of progress in less-developed economies.

As the microgrid technology demonstration projects described in this issue move toward commercial developments in diverse future applications, it is interesting to explore the potential role of microgrids in a wider emerging global electrical energy future. This future will be largely determined by population growth and the rapidly expanding resource requirements of newly industrializing economies, environmental concerns (particularly climate change), and dwindling fossil-fuel reserves, together with the geo-political instability these forces are creating. The only element that may be confidently forecast is that electricity demand will grow. Despite more efficient technology, in general, development has led to an increasing share of end-use energy being electricity, and this link is unlikely to be broken. Our growing requirements for the energy services provided by electricity are unlikely to abate, and they will be met using a collage of approaches, technologies, and solutions. Examination of the electricity demand growth problem indicates that, conceptually, microgrids are well suited to play a significant role in the future evolution of energy service provision.


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