The David vs. Goliath Factor: Why Micro Beats Macro in the World of Power

Date: Sept. 1, 2016

We all know stories about little characters who beat bigger ones. David beat Goliath. In a famous children’s book, a “Little Engine That Could” climbed a high mountain when bigger locomotives refused to try. The slow-moving tortoise outsmarted the faster, more powerful hare . . . and the list of stories where the little guy or gal wins could go on and on.

In the world of power grids, a similar story line is playing out. You would think that a huge power grid would have more competitive power than a bunch of smaller start-ups, but that the opposite is turning out to be true.

Let’s consider some of the reasons why.

Improved Redundancy
When a huge power grid goes down, as it did during the famous Northeast Blackout in 2003, consumers lost power in an area of North America that included Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Vermont. If a number of independent microgrids had existed then, obviously power could have been returned – or never lost at all – in portions of that area.

Plus, modern microgrids can do more than step in when a large, multi-state power grid fails. They can jump in when another regional microgrid fails, delivering a more dependable form of redundancy. Perhaps it could be named “double redundancy.”

More Efficient Distribution
Forty or 50 years ago, the only way to get electrical power to remote regions was to run wires or, in some cases, install generators.

Modern, relatively compact microgrids can be installed anywhere power is needed – in remote towns, on islands, or in places where topography makes it difficult or expensive to string electrical cables. Small can go where the power is needed.

Reduced Environmental Impact
Microgrids can access electrical power from gas or diesel-powered generators. But they can also utilize systems that generate power from wind, solar and hydroelectric sources. The power can be stored in batteries and accessed in the event of power outages, offer a source of power with zero or low emissions.

A microgrid that is installed near where its power is needed is inherently more efficient. Plus when power is no longer needed in a remote area like a mine or construction area, its components can be dismantled and taken away, leaving little environmental damage.

Greater Resiliency and Shorter Downtimes
As we noted above, battery backups can help assure that microgrids will rarely fail to deliver power. Plus, a continuous flow of the power they generate can be further assured by back generators that can start if needed.

As noted, nearby microgrids can be called upon to deliver power should failure occur, and power can be obtained from a local utility. Neighboring microgrids can be called upon to deliver power if needed.

Dedicated Backup to Critical Facilities
Even within a metro area, separate microgrids can help assure uninterrupted power to serve critical needs, including: public transit; hospitals; emergency response and law enforcement; water distribution; traffic lights, traffic monitoring and pedestrian safety; banking; internet; airports and air traffic control; and the functioning of tunnels and bridges.

Absent those separate, independent and purpose-directed microgrids, critical functions would not be met in the event of catastrophes or wide outages.

Reduced Risk of Failure
Large distributed grids are, by their very nature, exposed to events that can cause failure. Trees can fall on power lines, floods can take out cables, and other problems can occur. In contrast, microgrids can be designed to be smaller, more contained, easier to secure, and less prone to failure.

The Ability to Give Back
Because microgrids are caring citizens (at least they can be designed to ask like they are), they can deliver power back to larger power grids if those grids fail or need support. So make no mistake about it, the little guys – microgrids – are the good guys who will win big by doing good.

Will David or Goliath Win?
As you can tell after reading this post, we are betting on smaller, agile microgrids to win this David vs. Goliath battle.

We invite you to take a moment and share your views.

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