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Utility 2.0 and the Dynamic Microgrid

Superstorm disruption calls for a new utility architecture.

Fortnightly Magazine - November 2013

delivering power to localized islands of stable operation. 

Possibly one of the foremost locations where the dynamic microgrid can be tested today is Long Island. In addition to being in the direct path of most major superstorms, it also is home to NYISO’s Zone K locational capacity network, with distributed generation scattered around the island, each of which could be a point of origin for a dynamic microgrid.

As we look at this evolutionary path to achieving the dynamic microgrid, it’s easy to see the challenges and also the benefits that will ensue: higher reliability, greater energy independence, more control at a local level, lower long-term costs, and a smaller carbon footprint.

Designing the Dynamic Grid

The distribution grid will continue to evolve over time, and utilities will find ways to support new technologies and business requirements. Key new technologies that are evolving toward implementation at scale include solid-state transformers, DC power systems, energy storage, distributed renewables, and electric vehicles. The same technologies support advancement toward a network of microgrids. 

The distribution system will develop to a state where it comprises an interconnected network of microgrids (both classical and dynamic), each with its own distinct characteristics. Using dynamic microgrids will allow utilities to design their entire distribution systems such that when problems happen, the system will separate along pre-determined boundaries, creating a system of microgrids, some of which might be connected to each other, and some not. Some of these microgrids will incorporate technologies capable of balancing demand against available supplies, and some will be simpler backup power configurations. The former will be more stable than the latter, and they will be more effective in helping utilities restore power faster. 

Until now, microgrids have generally been implemented outside the regulated utility business model. However, dynamic microgrids allow the utility to take a front-and-center role in this effort by becoming initiators and owners of the change. Utilities can create an environment in which they drive the process by which microgrids get established, either in a static manner or in a dynamic manner – thereby delivering on customer mandates as well as their own need to provide an enhanced customer experience. The utilities directly affected by Superstorm Sandy have a unique opportunity to demonstrate their leadership by moving the dial in this new direction.

Endnotes:

1. A dynamic microgrid can be defined as a portion of a distribution grid that has the ability to independently separate itself from the main grid when in duress, be able to sustain itself in a stable manner for extended periods of time by creating a balance between supply and demand within its boundaries, and then reattach itself to the main grid once normal operation has been achieved.

2. The Gridwise Alliance used the term VLSE in its report, Improving Electric Grid Reliability and Resilience: Lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy and Other Extreme Events.

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