Innovation in the generation, transmission and, most importantly, storage of electricity continues apace. Going well beyond interest by sustainability-oriented consumers, microgrids are emerging as an efficient and effective distributed generation option. This recent Time Magazine article outlines the potential this technology may hold.
Microgrids have become increasingly popular across the U.S. in recent years, embraced by everyone from community developers to military officials. They have been installed as part of a 40-solar-panel infrastructure project atop a peak in North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains; used as a way to deliver power to the 2,800 residents of Borrego Springs, Calif.; and implemented at the U.S. Army's Fort Carson in Colorado.
The reason is as simple as the bottom line: the technology offers a way for communities to collect, store and use their own energy, rather than pay for it to be shipped from miles away. In the U.S., microgrids often include batteries, a localized renewable energy source like solar panels, and sophisticated software to determine when to buy energy from utility companies and when to sell any excess power back.
The rise of microgrids comes as part of a broader shift in the ways Americans think about electricity storage and delivery. The grid, long associated with large infrastructure such as transmission lines, power plants and substations, also functions at the community and neighborhood levels. Indeed, microgrid capacity is expected to double by 2020, totaling 4.3 gigawatts in microgrid potential, according to GTM Research, an industry analyst.
While this is sure to be of global interest, particularly in less developed countries where reliable power is always suspect, the U.S. appears to be on the forefront as an estimated $3.5 billion will be invested in micrograms between 2015 and 2020 with 54% of global microgrid capacity already located in the U.S.