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Preparing for the worst

We can’t sit and wait for disaster to strike. Roxanna Partow explains how micro-grids can help us disaster-proof our networks now.

Roxanna Partow Electrical Engineer

by Roxanna Partow

Electrical Engineer, Melbourne

11 January 2018

Have you ever felt like you should do something that has the capacity to prevent *insert word such as chaos, mess, discomfort, disappointment* (you catch my drift) but don't do it only to realise you should have done it because of the severity of what could have been prevented?

The little voice in your head shouts: "I told you so!"

These are the type of lessons learnt from just about every disaster that strikes – from burning yourself from the steam of a kettle to a full blown blackout from a hurricane or earthquake.

So, why wait? Is there a rule that says change is predicated on disaster?

We don't need another disaster to strike before we convince ourselves that we can and should be disaster proofing our networks, all over the world, faster!

That's exactly what Japan is doing; especially since they've also experienced the wrath of their 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that left the nuclear power plant in Fukushima a radioactive ruin. Japan is seeking to spend $41 billion on new resiliency projects in 2018 including developing smart villages, towns and cities with interconnected, low and zero-carbon microgrids.

It's all about Grid Resiliency

Grid resiliency refers to the ability to prevent power failure, or restore power quickly, after a disaster. One of the most effective ways to provide reliable energy and ensure grid resiliency is by developing microgrids. In recent years, regions that have been hit hard by severe weather conditions have pressed forward with microgrid developments to improve grid resiliency.

Take a look at the following graphic. This shows several microgrids connected to the main grid which is connected to a centralised power station by long transmission lines.

As you can see, microgrids are essentially mini-grids; the consumers and generation units are all within a defined boundary and within close proximity to one another. Each microgrid is still connected to the main grid as shown.

The generation units within microgrids are not reliant on long transmission lines that become vulnerable in storms. Microgrids can disconnect (or become islanded) from the main grid if there is a power failure or some other form of disruption. In its islanded state, the microgrid then transmits power to the customers within the microgrid by using the local microgrid generators, which can ramp production quickly to make up the shortfall. This switch over can happen very fast.

Take a look at this next graphic. Let's say that there is a fault on the system causing an outage of the long transmission lines. The microgrid, having local generation, allows the functions of the community to carry on.

If there was no microgrid configuration, the communities would all be without power until the fault was safely removed. I'm sure you recall some of those longer power outages over time?

Yep – most could have been due to faults or other disasters that prevented power transmission from centralised power generation sources.

So, when is the time to put in place the advanced technology like microgrids that will better protect us from the next inevitable storm?

If the voice in your head echoed a "Now", let's virtual high 5!

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