In the Product Design & Development Brainstorm we talk with industry leaders to get their perspective on issues critical to the design engineering marketplace.

In this issue, we ask: How can microgrids help mitigate grid disturbance and advance the nation’s energy system?


Michael Burr
Director, Microgrid Institute

Microgrids allow local customers to take control of their own energy systems, providing technology tools to reduce dependence on centralized utility systems that are inherently vulnerable to many types of threats – from bad weather to terrorism.

Most microgrids are designed and operated for the purpose of ensuring resilient energy supplies for a defined set of customers. Accordingly, microgrids can help mitigate grid disturbances by maintaining energy supplies for critical facilities and services. Community microgrids, for example, can ensure continued operation of first-response facilities, hospitals, public shelters, and even grocery stores and gas stations during extended outages.

Microgrids can maintain both thermal and electric energy supplies, strengthening overall resilience rather than just resilient electricity supplies. Additionally, if they are designed and deployed properly, microgrids can be used to help maintain grid stability by responding to utilities’ or system operators’ calls for demand response or generation supplies. Advanced microgrid control systems allow coordinated control of many energy resources, allowing for virtual power plant capabilities and ancillary services that utilities can use to improve power quality and reliability.

Microgrids advance the nation’s energy system in several ways. Most notably, microgrids offer new technology and service choices for customers. Microgrids are designed and operated to meet the specific needs of specific customers – as contrasted with the utility grid, which is designed to deliver a generic service to all ratepayers. Microgrids make it possible for communities to tap into local energy resources to achieve multiple benefits, such as strengthened resilience, greater reliance on local renewable energy, and retaining energy dollars in the local economy.

By optimizing energy consumption to match available local resources, microgrids can reduce customers’ overall energy costs and environmental footprint. Additionally, microgrid control systems advance the state-of-the-art in smart grid technology, allowing balanced operation of smaller and smaller energy systems with variable resources. Microgrid control technologies ultimately could revolutionize the integrated utility grid by allowing intelligent management of a fractal self-healing architecture.



Laurent Schmitt
Smart Grid Strategy Leader, GE Grid Solutions

Microgrids are a fundamental component in enabling today’s electricity grid modernization to address growing demand, distributed generation, and environmental pressures. Electricity grids will host “constellations of microgrids,” enabling peer to peer energy transactions between them through the new possibilities of state-of-the-art information and communications technology (ICT).

With distributed energy resources expanding at grid edge, microgrid coordination requires communication to become multi-dimensional, with information flowing among a subset of microgrid devices enabling distributed energy.

The main benefits of microgrids are to improve the coordination of distributed energy resources within its grid footprint, minimizing the impact to the rest of the energy system, typically:

  • Ensuring service continuity to its end user during grid outages.
  • Deferring capital investments on peak generation and grid assets.
  • Providing services to the grid during synchronized operation.
  • Minimizing its end user community environmental impact.

NiceGrid is one of the six smart grid projects of the Grid4EU program led by ERDF, EDF, and GE Grid. It consists of a Microgrid located in the municipality of Carros, in the Southeast region of France. The project is designed to test an innovative architecture for medium and low voltage distribution microgrids with high penetration of distributed residential scale PV connecting together with demand response.

More than 1,500 residential, commercial, and industrial end users are participating in this microgrid project initiative. The project was started four years ago and is planned to be a living laboratory for the region. It is designed to assess the economic and technical feasibility of microgrids and to study the social acceptance of the end user community.



Sally Jacquemin
Microgrid Business Manager, Siemens Digital Grid

The traditional power system delivers electricity using the utility distribution grid. If for some reason, such as a severe weather event or a cyber-attack, the distribution network is lost or the power lines go down, then all consumers experience power outages.

The microgrid leverages on-site generation and automated control technology to ensure that power remains on for select geographic areas and high priority loads during the loss of grid power (the functionality we call “islanding”). Additionally, the microgrid oftentimes utilizes renewable energy such as solar as part of the onsite generating assets, so communities can reduce their carbon footprint by using more green power.

As the demands we place on our power systems continue to evolve whether in relation to increased renewable generation, wider fluctuations in demand, or how we ride through catastrophic weather events, our grids need to adapt. In that context, microgrid solutions are complementary pieces to the evolving grid, representing the application of emerging technology to the demands of the 21st century.

Microgrids may not be wide-spread today, but we believe they will be a cornerstone of the power systems of tomorrow. Siemens is already working with communities across the U.S. to help plan for and implement microgrid technologies. In northern California, Siemens is partnering with Native American reservation Blue Lake Rancheria and Humboldt University to install a low-carbon microgrid to power the 100-acre region.

Siemens microgrid management software will manage and control the on-site energy resources including a solar photovoltaic installation, battery storage, and a biomass fuel cell system so the reservation is able to provide residents and business with reliable, high-quality power. Siemens has also been chosen by 18 communities throughout New York State to help them study the feasibility of installing community microgrids.


This blog originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Product Design & Development