HH: Microgrid Systems

‘Microgrids’ and distributed energy systems provide backup while waiting for relief

One of the greatest concerns during a natural disaster is support systems that can aid in a number of ways when standard systems go down and people are still waiting for relief. In the case of electricity, these secondary systems can be found in the form of ‘microgrids’ and distributed energy systems. In parts of Houston, generators at convenience stores and gas stations have already played a crucial role.

ERCOT, the grid operator for much of Texas, reported more than 300,000 outages over the weekend due to Harvey. Several transmission lines were still out of service as of Thursday morning. The storm had knocked out about 6,700 MW of generation capacity, including a very small percentage of renewables.

Power use had fallen significantly to roughly 20,000 MW, well below the August peak of just under 44,000 MW. ERCOT attributed the lack of power use to a combination of structural damage along the coast and cooler temperatures.

Microgrids coordinate use of local energy sources and allow local power grids to maintain necessary levels of service in event of extreme demand or distribution substation failure. A power grid system that incorporates microgrids still has conventional, centralized energy sources, but can give more users an option for a local source of energy. Users can then independently manage and distribute their power.

Twenty-one convenience stores and gas stations in the Houston area remained open thanks to an unusual microgrid system designed by Enchanted Rock (ERock). The Texas-based company installs natural gas generators at commercial sites, which it aggregates into virtual power plant microgrids, according to Microgridknowledge.com, who reported on the storm Tuesday in a general assessment of the usefulness of these resources.

“Harvey’s damage appears be less from wind and more from widespread flooding. Wind brings down power lines. Flooding may not affect power lines, but could submerge local transformers and generators.

“The problem is much closer, and your own generator needs to be sufficiently hardened–say installed on stilts, or on the roof, instead of in your garage at flood level,” Horne said.”

The stores and fuel stations are providing essential products and services — including water, food and fuel —  that are helping residents survive and cope with the hardship. One store is even being used as a National Guard home base.

To donate to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, click here. Other donating options are also available online. Click here for a categorized list compiled by NPR.

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