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These kind of extreme weather events, combined with ageing electricity network infrastructure and rapid advances in technology mean the time is right to be exploring and embracing the opportunities for affordable, reliable power through micro-grids.

So, what’s a micro-grid?

A micro-grid is a small electricity network that can operate while connected to the main electricity grid or while in ‘islanded’ mode, which means the micro-grid is disconnected from the main electricity grid. 

A micro-grid might sound tiny because of the “micro” element but they can range in size from one building to whole sections of a town

powerboard

Micro-grids have a number of benefits 

  1. They can improve system reliability because they can operate separately from the main electricity grid
  2. So if the main grid is down, the micro-grid will keep working
  3. Micro-grids have the potential to reduce costs by reducing reliance on the main grid, and making the most of local investment in Distributed Energy Resources (DER) such as rooftop solar, wind and battery storage
  4. In rural or remote areas, micro-grids can also provide improved power quality and supply rather than relying solely on the main grid.

And what’s a mini-grid?

“Mini-grids”, which are not connected to a larger grid at all, have been in operation for a long time. These mostly use diesel fuel for generation, with increasing numbers of PV and diesel hybrid generation systems. 

In WA you’ll find mini-grids in towns such as Marble Bar and Onslow and across many of our smaller islands.

Because they are completely isolated, mini-grids can’t make the most of the economic efficiencies of being part of a larger electricity network. They also don’t have the security of being connected to a larger network.

Any electricity system needs enough generation to meet all of its load and the ability to manage dispatch and network power quality (e.g. voltage and frequency).  These are functions that centralised generation and the main grid usually supply.

Micro-grids are being used and tested around the world

Energy from solar power, wind power and battery storage systems is getting cheaper and technology such as smart meters and other micro-grid management systems are becoming more sophisticated. This means the potential for micro-grids to reduce costs and improve system resilience is rising.

Remember Hurricane Sandy in 2012?

It caused widespread and prolonged electricity blackouts? In response to this disaster, New York City commenced its Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative. The REV project has focused on regulatory reform to deliver resilient and low carbon electricity supply, including the use of renewable energy in micro-grids. 

One example is the Brooklyn Microgrid which was developed to provide power even if outages, interruptions or emergencies caused the larger grid to go down. Other US states, such as Connecticut have big plans in place to develop micro-grids for critical facilities.

Satellite image of hurricane
These kind of extreme weather events, combined with ageing electricity network infrastructure and rapid advances in technology mean the time is right to be exploring and embracing the opportunities for affordable, reliable power through micro-grids.