Microgrids are localized power grids that can be disconnected from the traditional grid to operate autonomously. Because they are able to operate while the main grid is down, microgrids can strengthen resilience and help prevent grid disturbances. They also function as a reliable resource for faster system response and recovery.
Microgrids enable the integration of more distributed energy resources, including renewable energy such as rooftop solar and batteries. Additionally, the use of local energy resources to serve local loads helps reduce energy losses in transmission and distribution, further increasing efficiency of the electric delivery system. Furthermore, microgrids provide vital service during emergencies and after severe storms.
When power was knocked out in many parts of Texas during Winter Storm Uri in 2021, many of H.E.B.’s grocery stores were able to keep the lights on, and refrigerators and freezers operating, because they had invested in microgrids. “This may not seem like a big deal, but for the local communities where they may not have access to the basics, like food and water, having that store continue to operate and provide services for customers is huge in order to help them get through those kinds of events,” Paul Froutan, Chief Technology Officer with Enchanted Rock, said as a guest on The POWER Podcast.
Enchanted Rock is a company that was founded in 2006. It calls itself “a leader in electrical resiliency-as-a-service, powering companies, critical infrastructure, and communities to ensure operational continuity during unexpected power outages from extreme weather, infrastructure failures, cyberattacks and other grid disruptions.” Enchanted Rock’s dual-purpose microgrids use natural gas and renewable natural gas (RNG) offsets to produce significantly lower carbon emissions and air pollutants than diesel generators. Additionally, the company’s end-to-end microgrid software platform, GraniteEcosystem, provides real-time 24/7/365 system monitoring and optimization, including forecasting of electricity market conditions, to ensure reliable power is delivered to customers.
Microgrids can provide value even when there’s not an emergency. “In other situations that may not be as severe, offering the capability to remove loads off the grid essentially creates additional capacity for everyone,” Froutan said. “So, you can look at it in the sense that, if we can get big loads off the grid, that power can go and serve the rest of the users in the community that don’t have that capability.”
Among the technology utilized in Enchanted Rock’s microgrids are solar panels, fuel cells, and batteries. But perhaps what adds the most reliability to the system is natural gas–fired generators. “We end up relying on the natural gas generator because they’re one of the few elements available on demand but you can run it indefinitely, effectively, even in situations where there are major events,” said Froutan.
Notably, the use of RNG allows a microgrid to remain “green.” Froutan said RNG is “the most interesting thing not talked about” when people discuss a carbon-neutral future. “There is a very good option of renewable natural gas out there that is available today, and depending on the approach, you can actually get a negative carbon index on use of those fuels,” he said. “So, it’s a very appealing option … that is easy, makes sense, and can be implemented right away.”
To hear the full interview with Froutan, which includes more about available microgrid technology, artificial intelligence and how it’s being used to optimize microgrids, customer examples, and more, listen to The POWER Podcast. Click on the SoundCloud player below to listen in your browser now or use the following links to reach the show page on your favorite podcast platform:
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—Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).