When Will Microgrids Be Mainstream? They Already Are

April 5, 2019
S&C Electric’s Chris Evanich opens our eyes to the future of microgrids and smart devices, which it turns out has already arrived.

S&C Electric’s Chris Evanich opens our eyes to the future of microgrids and smart homes, a future that it turns out has already arrived.

Within the utility industry, the question often comes up, ‘When will microgrids be mainstream?’ Well, the short answer is: they already are. Years ago, homeowners were speculating about when we would see the “smart house,” and it’s here. There was no grand unveiling or announcement, and you may not have realized it, but we are all living in smart homes. Think about all the household devices homeowners can control with their phones or online assistants from the comfort of anywhere.

Remember the movie where…

When you take a step back and consider it, it’s like we’re now living in an old Sci-Fi movie. I can open and close my garage door with my phone from my living room or halfway across the country. I can see when my mail is delivered or when a neighbor is at my front step via a video doorbell connected to my phone. My refrigerator tells me how many ounces of water I’m drinking, and my vacuum cleaner knows the layout of my house and keeps a schedule to make sure the floors stay clean. I can be cooking dinner in my kitchen, and my online assistant can find and read a recipe for me. And if I realize I am out of flour, my online assistant can order more to be at my house the next day. I have light bulbs and outlets I can control with voice commands and Wi-Fi, helping me save more on my energy bill by giving me more control over their use. The list goes on and on.

We don’t need to wait for smart houses; we are living in them, surrounded by devices that communicate, accept our commands, and ultimately help us monitor our energy use. Smart houses aren’t the only parts of our lives that are “smart.” While the integration of the smart home may have snuck up on us in the best way, smart cars have been a little more “in your face.”

Vehicles on the market now offer parking assistance, and there are ones that let you know when you are getting too close to the other lane. There are battery-powered cars, self-driving cars, and more.

The world is constantly changing and, because of more advanced controls being integrated into existing solutions, we have gained more control over technology we were already using.

Advanced controls: The step to microgrids

This is where we are with the electrical grid, too. When you look at a utility’s electrical infrastructure, the utility often already has some form of automation, or automatic transfer switches, within its system. Next, the utility probably has some form of renewable or alternative generation integrated into the grid, whether that be solar or wind, battery energy storage, combined heat and gas, or natural gas generators. If the utility doesn’t already have this alternative generation in place, it probably has plans for it in the future. When automation and alternative generation are already present on the grid, there is only one piece missing to turn the corner and have microgrids integrated into the utility’s system: advanced controls.

Just like our smart homes and smart cars, the smart grid is here, and it’s been here for a while, giving utilities nearly every part of a microgrid on its own. Like the “smart” achievements made in other aspects of everyday living, the addition of stronger, more advanced controls will allow utilities to better use and interact with the grid, providing a more efficient way to control energy use. The industry doesn’t need to wait for microgrids to become mainstream anymore; they are already here.

Take a look at your grid to see where advanced controls could help integrate a microgrid into existing systems.

Chris Evanich is manager of microgrids at S&C Electric.

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