Reliability Researchers Thinking Small

As power producers and politicians consider improvements to the current system for shipping electricity across North America, some researchers are revisiting some closer-to-home alternatives for boosting power reliability. Microgrids, small networks of generating resources that can be disconnected from the larger grid quickly and safely, are being investigated as an option for mission-critical ...
By Staff March 1, 2004

As power producers and politicians consider improvements to the current system for shipping electricity across North America, some researchers are revisiting some closer-to-home alternatives for boosting power reliability. Microgrids, small networks of generating resources that can be disconnected from the larger grid quickly and safely, are being investigated as an option for mission-critical operations.

Unlike single-source distributed-generation solutions, which may depend on a single backup power source, microgrids tie disparate resources into a single network. So, for example, standard diesel-powered generator sets might be matched with a fuel-cell system and a photovoltaic installation to power a manufacturing facility or industrial park.

That’s just the kind of mixture of power sources being incorporated into a research and business technology park called “TechTown,” being developed on the campus of Detroit’s Wayne State University. The school, with a new alternative-energy degree program (see Pure Power, 12/03 p. 8) is building the park, and DTE Energy Technologies and energy-services provider NextEnergy are working together to create the microgrid. Designers will incorporate fuel cells, internal and external combustion engines, microturbines and photovoltaic cells into their generation mix.

In another project, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are discussing a joint project with the national laboratories of Sandia, Oak Ridge and Lawrence Livermore, along with the California Department of Energy, to simulate a microgrid installation at a small factory. The design being studied by UW-Madison professor emeritus Robert Lasseter and graduate student Paolo Piagi fits each of the various generation resources with voltage source inverters to prevent possible voltage fluctuations within the microgrid and connected equipment.