Lessons from Microgrids for the COVID-19 Crisis

March 26, 2020
Trevor Gionet and Kay Aikin of Introspective Systems explain how flattening the COVID-19 curve is much like managing the grid with microgrids and demand response.

Trevor Gionet and Kay Aikin of Introspective Systems explain how flattening the COVID-19 curve is much like managing the grid with microgrids and demand response.

There are parallels between COVID-19 responses and the management of the electrical grid of the future. Concepts like “flattening the curve and” self-quarantine” are concepts not only crucial in the current pandemic, but in electricity distribution systems globally.

While we at Introspective Systems practice social distancing, working remotely, and watching record demands asked of hospitals and the infrastructure that support them, we hear something that is oddly familiar, “flattening the curve.” To those who work in the transmission and distribution environment, this concept is integral to the work we do. Our electricity systems infrastructure is determined by and broken by, peak demands of resources. When we move to a greener grid with greatly expanded renewable generation through microgrids and beneficial electrification of transportation, space heating, and industrial loads, our infrastructure will be impacted by peaks. The nation’s response to the COVID-19 crisis is driven by some of the same principals, flattening the curve (demand response) and self-quarantine (microgrids).

Peak electricity demand has been and will remain the silent killer of the electrical grid. Whether your business is a utility, a manufacturing plant, or a school district, peak electricity charges or the infrastructure required to service them are leading factors in your costs.

Courtesy of Introspective Systems

For this reason, Introspective Systems is focused on managing peak demands and building microgrids along with layered microgrids that “self-quarantine,” or island, during faults. Our flavor (algorithms) of Transactive Energy (TE), is designed to balance the large-scale demands on our system, orchestrating demand to match generation, while at the same time incentivizing production to be responsive to that changing demand. We do this through a balance of supply and demand, where our Economic Dispatch Value (EDV) responds to changes in the state of the system. Then, by combining the network-wide balancing capabilities of the EDV with local intelligence such as AI-enabled heating systems that forecast future grid states to take advantage of lower electricity costs, we can effectively flatten the demand curve.

These economic systems can drive microgrids or distribution grids and can then be layered as required. Much like the response to the pandemic in Hawaii, where its states are isolating or “islanding” by instituting 14-day quarantine to visitors, they protect themselves from further faults or in the case of COVID-19, new infections.

By economically incentivizing electricity customers to enable automated systems to service their needs, while meeting their demands, we can effectively have coordination throughout the entire distribution and transmission networks.

That’s how we “flatten the curve” and island ourselves.

This article originally appeared on the Introspective Systems blog and was reposted with permission. Author Kay Aikin is company founder and CEO, and Trevor Gionet is an algorithm scientist.

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