AUGUST, 2017


mi·cro·grid (mīkrōˌɡrid)  noun


  1. A small network of electricity users with a local source of supply that is usually attached to a centralized national grid but can function independently.


For the last 100 years in the electric generation industry, bigger has always been better. Large electric generation plants that can serve thousands of homes and cities were the norm. However, after Super Storm Sandy knocked out power to 8.5 million people, and then 1.3 million did not have power for another week, officials started rethinking the structure of how electricity is delivered in the U.S. Princeton University was able to stay electrified during and after the storm and served as a headquarters for emergency personnel. They did this because they operate a microgrid for the campus, and when the larger grid went down, they were able to island themselves and power their own needs.

The concept is simple. If you had ever had a generator at your home that you turned on when the power was out, you created a microgrid – a local source of power that has a transmission network and is not dependent on the larger electrical grid (your generator and the wiring your house). Learning from what happened on the east coast, Ameren Illinois has begun to take the lead on microgrids in the U.S. Hailed as the most advanced microgrid in the United States, Ameren Illinois installed a microgrid in Champaign, IL. They are testing new technologies to deliver clean, distributed energy resources (DER) to their customers from the wind, natural gas, and the sun.

The wind turbine stands 160 ft. tall and can produce 100kw of electricity. The onsite solar panels can generate 125 kilowatts. Also on the property is a lithium-ion battery bank that automatically stores excess energy. The battery automatically supplies power to the grid when customer demand is high.  It can provide 250kw of electricity for two hours.  The microgrid also has two 500kw reciprocating natural gas generators to supply energy when needed as well.

In total, the microgrid can serve 200 local customers (a mix of residential and commercial). The microgrid is considered extremely advanced because it automatically adjusts to customer demands, and seeks out the lowest price of power to utilize, and using the battery to provide energy during peak demand (high cost of energy). This whole process is managed by the Controllers at Ameren Illinois, with the goal to run the most efficiently and cost effectively as possible.

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