Commercial & Government Microgrids

When we flick a light switch, we expect the lights to turn on. We don't want to fiddle with an app or wait for the wind to blow. We expect perfect service and our society requires it. 80% of all economic commerce comes to a halt after three days without power. Our post-industrial society effectively becomes subsistence agrarian when food, water, and fuel supplies are exhausted. On August 14 of 2003, two tree limbs fell on high transmission lines in Cleveland, Ohio. The resulting cascade created power outages for 55 million people across Canada and the mid-Atlantic states for up to a week. 10 people died and $6 billion in costs were incurred. What can be done?

Quoting Time Magazine in response to the outages from Hurricane Sandy:

The best bet would be a more distributed grid, with more local generation — chiefly via solar panels — and local storage. Unsurprisingly, diesel-powered generators proved popular in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and solar panels helped as well. Of course, generators are dependent on fuel, and the widespread power outages after Sandy also shut down the Northeast’s fuel-distribution network too. But better batteries in the future could offer utilities, business and residences the chance to store electricity for a (very) rainy day, while cheaper solar will give individuals more independence and create a grid that’s more resilient in the event of a prolonged disruption.

Utilities, energy providers, and system providers (like EPC Power), have learned from the outages caused by Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and the aforementioned 2003 Outage: we need microgrids and controllable distributed generation to provide a more reliable electric grid in times of disaster or acts of war. Our grid is still vulnerable yet continues to evolve and change.

If you are interested in this topic, EPC is attending a focused conference on commercial and government microgrids in San Diego on October 20 -22 called, unsurprisingly, Commercial & Government Microgrids Summit. EPC Power, obviously, recommends the Summit, but please wish all the attendees the wisdom and insight to create a more robust grid that can self-heal or remain resilient to grid disruptions from natural or human activities.

Before and after satellite images of the 2003 Blackout. Lots of people without power, water, or food.