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The micro effect

John Peters, managing director of UK energy advisory business Engage Consulting, on the microgrid, its benefits and the current challenges for the industry

Microgrid development
In technology, cost-effective energy storage is probably the biggest hurdle for microgrid development, says Peters

RET: Why are microgrid developments so significant? Are they just the next step from the smart grid, or is there much more to the technology than this?

John Peters: A microgrid is a localised collection of energy generation, storage and consumption that runs in a similar way to a traditional grid but in a smaller and self-contained manner. Typically, microgrids cover a relatively small area such as a large industrial site, an island or even a small town or village. Microgrids encourage, and to some extent require, a holistic approach to energy management - they are not just a technology change. Microgrids could open the door to significant changes in how communities and businesses manage how they buy, use and, potentially, sell energy.

To understand the role of microgrids, it is helpful to look at some examples. In the UK, there is a community-led initiative called Ecoisland on the Isle of Wight which includes the development of a microgrid which works alongside the national system. In summer, generation by local wind farms and solar may give surpluses that can be exported to the national grid, while in winter extra demand could be met by importing energy from the grid – leading to an overall energy neutral position. Within the island boundary, wind farms, solar generation, other renewables, Green Deal type initiatives and local storage such as batteries could be used to manage energy demand and supply.

It is important to understand that the ‘micro’ in microgrid doesn’t necessarily mean small; it is quite possible that a large commercial operation such as London’s Heathrow airport could establish a microgrid to manage its energy consumption, which could easily top 80 to 90MW.

For microgrids to succeed both technology and commercial development is required. On the technology side, intelligent devices on the grid need to communicate with each other in order that demand and generation be balanced. On the commercial side, for the microgrid to operate as in tandem with the main grid, arrangements for dynamically buying and selling energy services need to be put in place.

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