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Smart Energy Communities Can Make Our Grid More Human-Centric

By Microgrid Resources Coalition posted 11-02-2020 16:07


Grant Samms, POWER


I’ve always been drawn to the swarm ship design concept in science fiction. The idea is that what initially looks like one massive spaceship is actually a cluster of really small vessels that can split apart when the going gets tough. As one, it’s efficient; as many, it’s resilient.

This concept offers a powerful consideration for what the electrical grid could be. For nearly a century, the grid has been one, solid, hulking, inflexible machine. Now, with the rise of technologies like microgrids, distributed renewables, battery storage, and vehicle-to-grid applications, we can reimagine the grids that enclose our communities to be like those fictional spaceships. Nominally together for efficiency, but modular when advantageous. It’s an idea that has recently seen progress. Through the concept of a smart energy community, people are looking at the monolithic grid that surrounds them and reimagining it in a more human-centric way.

Remote Communities Benefit

Clustered 28 miles off the southwest coast of Great Britain, the Isles of Scilly are home to 2,200 residents and an electrical dilemma. While they are connected to the larger grid, there’s only one long, snaking cable that brings electricity across the seabed from the mainland. The resulting power is expensive and unreliable. In the past, residents frequently had to shut off certain appliances so others could access the available trickle of power.

This remote and unreliable energy environment made for a perfect test of smart energy community concepts. With funding from the European Union, Hitachi launched an extreme grid makeover on the archipelago. The Isles are now better able to manage their own electrical needs through use of solar generation; battery storage systems; efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment; and microgrids (a way for the island to become its own miniature grid disconnected from the mainland).

The system essentially draws a series of concentric circles for grid operation. A home can operate as a small grid and coordinate with the microgrid as needed, which in turn can coordinate with the mainland grid as needed. The result is that power on the islands is cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable than at any time in the Isles’ history. Hitachi also aims to incorporate electric vehicles, vehicle-to-grid technology, and its own artificial intelligence-based microgrid management system to further optimize grid function.

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