An all-star analogy
When describing microgrids, I like to use the analogy of a professional sports team. Distributed energy resources are the players, storage is the captain and controls are the coach. When storage is integrated, it is like adding an all-star player like Michael Jordan or Babe Ruth to your lineup. Individual strengths of other players (components) are supported by the captain (storage) to form a properly balanced solution. Instead of each “player” acting alone, assets work in unison to score a point or, in our case, align favorable generation with the loads. Nondispatchable components (such as solar and wind) can flexibly produce without curtailment and dispatchable assets (diesel and gas gensets) can operate at peak efficiency. Alternatively, underperforming components can be bolstered by batteries because of their rapid response; for example, if the sun fails to shine and/or the wind does not blow. Altogether, the result is a cohesive team that provides effective production, fuel savings, improved power quality (despite renewable output fluctuations) and many other stackable revenue streams.
Controls and the imminence of artificial intelligence
As mentioned in the analogy above, controls are our coach. Every great team has one; a seasoned individual who understands the strategy, strengths and plays of the game. Great coaches know which players to use, when to apply them and how to leverage favorable conditions. Similarly, a sophisticated control system takes advantage of new trends taking place in the form of neural networks, artificial intelligence and automation. These processes have been gaining momentum across all industries and can positively impact power generation through the analysis of historical and real-time data. Fortunately for us, our modern world gives us monitoring and control capabilities over almost anything. By using this input, our decision-making process for energy usage and the economies tied to it will only improve. With smart controls, our choices can be made with confidence, either directly by us or through the intelligent automation we design. Either way, this knowledge is power and will bring us one step closer to a sustainable future.
Although most of us expect illumination when we flip on the light switch, most of us fail to appreciate the vast amount of effort it takes to get us to this simple result. Fuel discovery, refinement, delivery and generation are just a few elements to consider off a very long list. Although electricity can be perceived as relatively inexpensive to an average consumer, there are immense opportunities to save when applied to the big picture. With the ever-growing energy requirements — such as the large-scale adoption of electric vehicles — that are expected in the coming years, a strong team is essential to win the energy game. With smart microgrids and energy storage, we can meet these demands without straining our existing energy grid. Both storage and controls have come a long way, and I am really looking forward to how far we can take them.
Alexander Darovskikh is senior sales manager, microgrids North America for Rolls-Royce Solutions America.