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Moving Toward Microgrids

Matt Goss

Though district systems are used widely through­out Europe and are gaining traction else­where around the world, U.S. com­mu­ni­ties have been slower to adopt the central plant concept. This is partly due to readily avail­able low-cost energy sources, such as natural gas and elec­tric­ity, and the sig­nif­i­cant in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ments needed to retrofit residential buildings and transmit thermal energy across the U.S. urban land­scape.

However, we must look beyond these short-term chal­lenges so U.S. mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties can benefit from distributed energy systems. Proof of their value can be seen during devastating natural events, such as Hur­ri­cane Sandy, when combined heat and power (CHP) enabled numerous in­fra­struc­ture systems to continue op­er­at­ing during and after the super storm. And the recently released “Combined Heat and Power Tech­ni­cal Po­ten­tial in the United States,” de­vel­oped by the U.S. De­part­ment of Energy, further promotes the prac­ti­cal im­ple­men­ta­tion of CHP projects.

The microgrid concept can take advantage of a community’s nearby resources, leveraging fuel flexibility for centralized energy delivery.
Matt Goss, Technical strategy leader

By re­vi­tal­iz­ing and sup­ple­ment­ing cen­tral­ized systems with other sources, such as wind and solar, they become sus­tain­able, easy to maintain, and more reliable with built in re­dun­dan­cies. This mi­cro­grid concept—in­ter­con­nect­ing a variety of power sources for wide-spread neigh­bor­hood use—is gaining favor in North America. Recent reports indicate at least 400 mi­cro­grid projects are op­er­at­ing or underway around the world, with North America taking the overall market share in this de­vel­op­ment.

The micro-grid concept can take ad­van­tage of a com­mu­nity’s nearby re­sources, lever­ag­ing fuel flexibility for centralized energy delivery. For example, communities with great sun and wind can connect solar panels and wind turbines to their local grid. Waste­water recla­ma­tion, biomass, waste-to-energy and land­fills facilities can be used—and even collocated—to create thermal energy and elec­tric­ity for local benefit.

Whether through a central plant or mi­cro­grid system, these dis­trib­uted energy models are an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant part of our energy future, pro­vid­ing long-term grid re­li­a­bil­ity, energy efficiency and resiliency to withstand and recover from extreme weather.

Learn more from the De­part­ment of Energy:

Matt Goss is a vice pres­i­dent and the tech­ni­cal strategy leader for energy in CDM Smith’s in­fra­struc­ture and tech­nol­ogy group. With more than 14 years of ex­pe­ri­ence, Matt is a licensed pro­fes­sional engineer in 14 states, is a LEED Ac­cred­ited Pro­fes­sional and is also a Cer­ti­fied Energy Manager, Cer­ti­fied Energy Auditor and Certified Demand Side Manager.

Matt Goss Matt Goss
Distributed energy models are an increasingly important part of our energy future.
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