Are Microgrids The Future for Utilities? Will Polluting Diesel Generators Restrict Their Adoption?
Many utilities are looking to microgrids to solve a variety of challenges, including compliance with environmental legislation, relieving pressure on overworked grids and meeting future energy demands.
With power outages still a huge issue in many parts of the world, having a local energy grid, or “microgrid” that can operate autonomously from the traditional grid is an attractive offering. In areas such as North and South America where frequent severe weather incidents such as Hurricane Irma bring down grid power for weeks and months, microgrids or mini grids are not only being trialled for emergency power, but also for mainstream primary power in some remote communities.
The microgrid business model stacks up both for local communities looking to reduce energy costs and retain control and for utilities looking to diversify, increase energy resilience, add customer value and create new revenue streams.
So, if the case for microgrids is strong, what’s inhibiting their widespread deployment?
The first big drawback with microgrids has been their continued reliance on polluting and environmentally unfriendly diesel generators. The second drawback is that renewable energy such as wind and solar power are not entirely reliable due to uncontrollable weather conditions and their inability to generate power on windless or cloudy days.
How can we ensure that microgrids are reliable, sustainable and non-polluting? Well, finding effective diesel generators alternatives would no doubt make a considerable difference to microgrid deployment.
Fortunately, there’s a 100% clean, weather-independent solution that’s not only ready to replace diesel generators, but also to provide a host of other benefits too – the modern fuel cell generator.
We’re already seeing strong demand from utilities for fuel-cell-based solutions, including long-duration backup generators for substations. But there are also projects that are exploring the wider potential of hydrogen fuel cell energy for everyday applications in our towns and cities. Essentially, where power is critical to business or life, there’s now a business case for the modern fuel cell generator that can offer unparalleled reliability at an affordable price.
Many are not aware that the inherent benefits of a fuel cell go beyond just power generation and that fuel cells can actually assist in energy storage and regulating power flow via an ‘energy bridge’. This energy storage aspect can play a large part in increasing the effectiveness and attractiveness of microgrids for the future.
Larger microgrids typically have several sources of power generation, including renewable energies. But due to their weather dependency, wind and solar can only provide intermittent power. Fuel cell generators with an energy bridge and an independent UPS battery, are ideal for steadying this power supply.
As a modular and scalable technology, additional fuel cells can be added to a microgrid as our energy demands grow. Unlike solar and wind farms that require large tracts of land, fuel cells are significantly easier to install in urban environments. Producing zero emissions, virtually no noise and no vibrations, fuel cells can sit outside or inside a building. So, for hurricanes or severe weather, fuel cells can be placed within protected environments can ensure that there is no disruption to life-saving emergency power, whether they are operational throughout an incident or provide power immediately after the storm is over.
For those seeking highly reliable power, microgrids in a smart grid environment have the potential to transform power in areas where the grid is unstable. In bringing this about, the modern fuel cell can serve as a lynchpin to improve both their reliability as well as their sustainability credentials.