Microgrids are localized low-voltage energy networks that can connect to the main grid or can operate as islands. Being low voltage makes them ideal for use with renewables, loads and energy storage systems. The challenge is to get them working together like the sections of an orchestra.
Microgrids make it possible for companies and communities to consume electrical energy they produce themselves. They can scale up supply at demand peak times and decrease power production when required. Their flexibility makes it easier to reduce energy costs and carbon emissions.
Each microgrid is a unique system that integrates and coordinates a range of system resources to provide the optimum solution for its users. The downside of this is the resulting complexity and cost – the main limiting factors to broader microgrid adoption.
For microgrids to flourish, system architectures and devices must evolve. Intelligent hardware with remarkable connectivity capabilities and embedded software will be the game-changer, bringing the discipline of a conductor to the microgrid orchestra to ensure that each instrument plays in harmony – tuned for energy efficiency.
Connecting a number of energy sources requires hardware and software able to protect against overloads and equipment failures, monitor electricity flows and control when and how much renewable power should enter the microgrid. It is often complicated. The microgrid also needs to maximize energy savings and service continuity. In any plant or building there will be times when non-priority loads could be shut down to prevent power consumption passing peak limits. Besides, logics are required to avoid every potential blackout situation.
Delivering all these functions currently requires a lot of different devices. The choice of the system elements is tailored for each network situation and their commissioning adds difficulty to microgrid installation. For microgrid system integrators, it is like managing a team of worldwide experts each speaking a different language and working in their own customary ways.
We want to change that. We believe that many of the features required for a microgrid should come built-in to the plug-in switchgear. That’s why we have taken the development of the Emax 2 smart circuit breaker a stage further [ here’s what we introduced at Hanover Messe]. It’s the first time that there’s ever been an all-in-one solution for microgrids. The orchestra must indeed have a conductor.
When ABB first launched the Emax 2, the idea was to embed demand management, control and connectivity into a circuit breaker, as well as all the usual protection functions.
By integrating new advanced functions that serve as an automatic transfer switch or a power management algorithm, the circuit breaker can select and control the different power sources within the microgrid.
The biggest winners in the introduction of microgrids will be the forward-looking production facilities, industrial parks and communities who use microgrids to optimize their energy costs, even by selling energy back to the grid when it benefits. By making microgrid architecture simpler and more cost-effective, microgrid-ready smart circuit breakers could be the catalyst they need. The difference between elevator music and a masterpiece.
The author of this article, Fabio Monachesi, is a product manager at ABB.