The Word is . . . Flexibility

May 21, 2021
Microgrids themselves are inherently flexible, incorporate a range of flexible solutions and help a broad range of stakeholders. Steve Hoffman, president and CEO of Hoffman Power Consulting, explores microgrid flexibility and why those inherent capabilities are important to a variety of stakeholders.

Microgrids are flexible. Here’s how, and why that’s important. 

Why flexibility?

A recent Accenture survey and report spotlights the importance of building resilience via flexibility. According to over 200 utility executives, increased system flexibility is the greatest resilience priority over the next decade. What’s more, 95% believe the most cost-effective approach to bolstering resilience is, you guessed it, increased flexibility. But why flexibility?

  • The complementary tactic of hardening network assets is effective but expensive.
  • Adaptability fosters long-term resilience to the unpredictability of extreme weather.
  • Flexibility improves utilization of assets and management of workforces.
  • A more flexible power system helps address other types of threats as they arise.

Flexibility = microgrid

Like resilience, flexibility is not well-defined, but, clearly, some resources are inherently more flexible than others. Consider the following reasons why microgrids provide high value flexibility:

  1. Microgrids themselves are inherently flexible.
  2. Microgrids incorporate a range of flexible solutions.
  3. Microgrid flexibility helps a broad range of stakeholders.

Source: Hoffman Power Consulting

Inherent flexibility

Two grids are inherently more flexible than one. Most microgrids are tied to the larger grid during normal operation but can island during an emergency. This arrangement provides flexibility to microgrid customers and the main grid.

Microgrids can protect against known, emerging and potential future threats. Unlike hardening solutions, which generally protect against one or two specific threats, microgrids can address diverse threats – not just wildfires and extreme weather but also earthquakes, geomagnetic storms, physical attacks, cyberattacks and pandemics.

Microgrids are modular. Modularity is another form of flexibility, and microgrids deliver this feature as well. A microgrid can be expanded to protect more customers, add resources more quickly than a centralized grid and link to adjacent microgrids.

Multiple flexibility solutions in one

Microgrids can incorporate several solutions that enhance flexibility – providing a flexibility multiplier effect. One example of these solutions is stationary and mobile distributed energy storage. Electric energy storage, coupled with renewables on microgrids, shifts load on “blue sky” days, can support the main grid with ancillary services, and provides resilient backup to the customer and/or microgrid during outages. Incorporating electric vehicles (EVs) into the microgrid further expands the options. With mobile storage, customers can recharge their EV at a location with sufficient power and return home ready to ride out the storm.

Microgrids aggregate many nanogrids. Within a microgrid, each home or business can function on its own as a nanogrid or as part of the microgrid, providing even more flexibility. This extends modularity to an even more granular level.

Microgrids facilitate adoption of demand response. Demand response (DR) has provided flexibility to utilities and customers for decades. Incorporating it into microgrids takes this to another level. Intramicrogrid DR, intermicrogrid DR (multiple microgrids) and microgrid-to-main grid DR triples the flexibility power of demand response.

Everybody wins

Microgrids provide flexibility solutions for all stakeholders. This is especially true of community microgrids, which help cities, counties and rural communities provide continuous support for essential services, sensitive loads, vulnerable citizens and first responders – according to the community’s priorities.

Even single-customer microgrids can enhance flexibility outside their borders. Corporate-owned microgrids can give back to their local community where their employees now work from home (e.g., by providing central meeting places, aiding distribution of emergency supplies and enabling recharging of EVs and cell phones).

Microgrids contribute to effective restoration of the larger grid. By remaining in island mode while the larger grid recovers from a widespread outage, a microgrid can reduce the startup resources required to energize the main grid.

Microgrid flexibility helps utilities meet blue sky needs in load pockets. Building a new or even an enhanced transmission line is expensive and can pose regulatory and legal challenges, whereas a microgrid can be more readily built or expanded.

Other flexibility solutions?

What do you think of our take on microgrid flexibility and our list of these capabilities? We welcome your feedback at [email protected].

Steve Hoffman is president and CEO of Hoffman Power Consulting. To read more on microgrids, visit Hoffman Power Consulting.

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