Microgrid Quick Chat: Why Every Microgrid Needs a Controller

Jan. 12, 2023
Tim Allen, the new president and CEO of PXiSE, discusses the microgrid’s brain – its controller — in this Quick Chat with Elisa Wood, editor-in-chief of Microgrid Knowledge.

A lot of confusion exists in the energy industry about microgrid controllers. Tim Allen, president and CEO of PXiSE, seeks to dispel this in a Quick Chat interview with Elisa Wood, editor-in-chief of Microgrid Knowledge. Allen discusses the role and capabilities of microgrid controllers, as well as recent technology innovations.

Allen notes that microgrids have evolved over time, and people do not realize they can now operate on 100% renewable energy. Many modern microgrids run “entirely on solar batteries and fuel cells and combine multiple resources and multiple controllable loads.”

This disconnect between what is and isn’t possible leads to misconceptions around the role of microgrid controllers.

“There's a misconception that the power goes away and the inverter just knows what to do,” Allen says.

But, if you want to run a fully renewable microgrid, he says you must coordinate all its power resources, otherwise “they can fight with each other and cause unwanted behavior.”

The microgrid controller fills that role by balancing variable or intermittent power sources such as wind and solar, ensuring the microgrid supplies high quality power at all times.

“The microgrid controller, if it's operating at a very high speed, sees the sudden step increase in load or the sudden step decrease in solar production and can quickly dispatch another resource, like a battery, to mitigate it before it becomes a big problem,” Allen says. He adds that you simply cannot have a renewable microgrid without a controller.

In the video, Wood and Allen also discuss how electric vehicles (EVs) are changing the nature of microgrids and increasing the need for advanced controllers. Allen says that the number of microgrids that include EV chargers are on the rise. While this presents challenges to the industry because it adds yet more unpredictable loads to the microgrid, they’re manageable with advanced microgrid controllers.

Allen also reflects on the shift in mindset he’s seeing from utilities when it comes to microgrids. He says that rather than erecting more transmission lines and building large power plants, “now we're seeing microgrids being deployed in front of the meter by utilities for the purpose of fragmenting their system into small little grids that stay connected through communication and software.”

During the interview, Allen shares the importance of developing a good control strategy early in the microgrid design process.

Watch this Quick Chat video.

About the Author

Kathy Hitchens | Special Projects Editor

I work as a writer and special projects editor for Microgrid Knowledge. I have over 30 years of writing experience, working with a variety of companies in the renewable energy, electric vehicle and utility sector, as well as those in the entertainment, education, and financial industries. I have a BFA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona and a MBA from the University of Denver.

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