Microgrids and IoT Integration
August 2, 2021
Microgrids are self-sufficient, low-voltage energy distribution systems that consume and produce electricity autonomously from the greater electricity transmission grid. These systems comprise a series of managed electric loads such as lighting loads; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC); elevators; and electric vehicles among other things. They also include distributed power sources like small scale wind turbines, Solar PV, hydrogen fuel cells, geothermal, heat pumps, Combined Heat and Power (CHP) or Co-Gen, as well as battery storage. Microgrids typically serve a small geographic community independent from the transmission grid, known as being in “island mode.” This is due to the technical, financial, and regulatory difficulties associated with pricing and maintaining electricity flow between the microgrid and the larger public grid. That being said, microgrids can also be connected to the public grid through a “grid-connected mode”, which means there is the potential for a two-way flow of power.
Microgrids are becoming increasingly commonplace in North America. They have shed their niche appeal, migrating from the pioneering edges of society and into urban centers as self-reliant enclaves of technological dynamism and climate resilience. These forays mark a rapid transformation in how cities generate, supply, and distribute electricity. They also demonstrate a change in how business leaders, community architects, building owners and facility managers think about electricity consumption and pricing. However, the growing prominence of microgrids is not only powered by ESG investments or progressive government policy, but also by leaps in IoT innovation.
Smart meters are becoming the bedrock for measuring and managing the complex data streams associated with energy production and consumption in microgrids. By disaggregating loads by end-use, smart meters provide detailed information regarding the microgrid community’s energy profile and recorded consumption. All that data can then be processed and organized using an energy data hub, which in turn enables microgrid managers and building owners to engage in energy management. Moreover, active grid management using smart metering data can make it easier to match onsite energy production with energy use. This translates to less energy wasted, fewer dollars spent and more system resilience. By balancing energy production with consumption, the microgrid will not only operate more efficiently, it will also be more flexible and better equipped to handle dips in power output.
From a supplier standpoint, the IoT integration of smart metering and microgrids makes it easier to remotely collect energy data for billing. This is because new advanced revenue-grade smart meters allow building owners and billing companies to pull real-time meter reads to generate accurate and reliable invoices. This plays a big role in ensuring the microgrid not only avoids unseen technical and nontechnical losses, but also that it stays financially viable by keeping the cost of providing energy services low.
Energy digitization, automation and intelligent IoT driven microgrids may seem like far off fantasies, but in reality, they drive a lot of today’s innovations in energy infrastructure. By supporting the deployment of microgrids that utilize smart meters and IoT, we not only benefit from having accurate, reliable, and affordable energy services, but also from clean, sustainable, and climate-resilient communities.