A U.S. community microgrid project is in the making in Warner, New Hampshire, to harness the potential solar-derived power coming from individual units in random buildings, making it available as needed once plugged into the existing electrical grid distribution system.
The project entails the installation of the associated equipment such as solar panels, batteries, inverters, etc., and its design aims to serve initially a population of 444 residents in the center of the town with the potential to radiate outwards to include up to 3.000.
Local energy experts back up feasibility
The design, however, obeys in part to the presence of Roy Morrison, an outstanding renewable energy consultant exalted to “energy expert” in a Forbes publication. He described his otherwise ordinary plan to consist of a few buildings randomly chosen, each operating separately as microgrid units, all of which together with a community grid would give shape, ultimately, to a virtual power plant.
He, in fact, is the author of the first law for municipal aggregation for retail electric competition, has written social economic books on the subject of environmental sustainability, and is currently Director of the Office for Sustainability at Southern New Hampshire University, focused on energy renewables and efficiency.
Another fully credited energy expert associated with the project is Pentti Aalto, who covers the engineering side of the plan thereby complementing Morrison`s economic and social expertise.
The knots and bolts of the mini-grids
Aalto facilitates a definition of Warner´s community microgrid as a virtual power plant made up of an aggregation of smaller mini-grids or isolated grids, which can be defined as a set of electricity generators and possibly storage systems interconnected to a distribution network that supplies electricity to a localized group of customers, they involve small-scale electricity generation (10 KW to 10 MW) which serves a limited number of consumers via a distribution grid that can operate in isolation from the national electricity.
So, each mini-grid can operate independently, but as they are aggregated into the distribution network, they can provide or receive electricity at a cost, therefore supporting each other as needed. Even further, this virtual power plant could provide electricity to utility customers who do not have their own mini-grids.
Clear advantages beyond the use of clean energy
The obvious advantage derived from this arrangement, starting out from the power generated by the mini-grids´ solar arrays and batteries, is that at times when the overall demand for electricity is low power can then be bought and stored and excess power can be disposed of, with the effect of keeping prices at the low end, therefore being beneficial for all parties involved.
Still to be weighed out is the lack of legal structure to support the project, and to regulate the interaction of the microgrid with the national electric system, so as to balance out tariffs in a way to have a win-win situation for mini-grids and the nationwide operators of the distribution networks.
The virtual community power plant has such potential as to be able to power a whole state and to pose as a reliable back up system in case of national grid failure, of which both NASA and FERC have emitted alerts.