Using Virtual Microgrids to Gain Confidence Before Breaking Ground

Eaton’s William Murch explains the advantages of using virtual microgrids to test your system before it’s installed.

virtual microgrids

William Murch, director of service for Eaton’s microgrid energy system’s business

How do you know your microgrid will work before the system is in place? Each microgrid is designed to meet unique applications and composed of a mix of legacy and new assets with legacy controllers.

It is well known that microgrid technology can allow power systems to function distributed energy resources during times when the grid is healthy and operating properly, while also providing the capability to physically disconnect from the grid and operate in an islanding mode for an extended periods to power critical infrastructure. This functionality continues to attract attention across nearly every industry, with recent analyst forecasts indicating that the U.S. microgrid growth will exceed 3.7 gigawatts in 2020. So, having confidence in the expected functionality of each complex microgrid system is critical – well before new equipment is on order.

What if you could see how a system works during the design process, rather than waiting until the system is in place? Kind of test drive the microgrid applications.

Controller-in-loop simulation of complex microgrid systems enables system owners to test and understand the system as if the assets and devices were already connected. This virtual microgrid controller-in-loop demonstration ensures the system is configured and optimized in a lab environment and helps project designers better understand the system dynamics and feasibility of the project while giving owners/operators confidence in the system design and may be even tweak  to get desired performance.

This virtual microgrid hinges on a design process that is proven and extensively used in the aerospace and other industries. Even as each microgrid may be unique, the approach to power system design is logical, thorough and largely similar. A power system analysis or a microgrid feasibility study establishes the framework for the system that can be modelled, tested, optimized and its functionality confirmed.

Virtual microgrids hinge on a design process that is proven and extensively used in aerospace and other industries. Click To Tweet

In the U.S., microgrids are used in one of four typical scenarios: serving communities requiring high resiliency, rural and remote areas with a weak grid, areas where electricity is extraordinarily expensive, or to upgrade the utility transmission and distribution system and defer more involved upgrades of system assets. No matter which of these scenarios is driving the consideration of a microgrid, the vetting process is largely the same.

Key aspects of the feasibility assessment include:

  • Functional requirements
  • System load data and profile
  • Impact of non-dispatchable DER and its mitigation
  • Available types of base generation DER
  • System controls (topology, functionality of components including system controller)
  • Protections challenges in microgrids with inverter based DER
  • Analysis of economics, included the budgetary equipment and labor costs

The process and approach is not only largely the same but provides the same result: it answers in simple terms whether a microgrid makes good sense to employ in a specific circumstance. If so, it also provides insights on the system configuration and components optimal to meet the specific project needs. The study first determines critical needs and requirements, develops a microgrid plan, and finally outlines more specific technical aspects and recommendations. Then, this data informs the virtual microgrid modeling and microgrid controller configuration, which allows system owners and designers to better understand and evaluate the microgrid and optimize it.

This process demonstrates whether a microgrid would be able to meet its functional requirements. For example, a microgrid project in a coastal area subject to hurricane conditions that is powered mainly with renewable and utility power may not be feasible without a mix of diesel generators. In this example, the renewable assets or utility power may not be available to provide energy resiliency during the storm. In another part of U.S., another project needs to assess the ability and economics of tapping a microgrid involving battery storage to save on energy; the sizing of the energy storage will again hinge on the load profile and consider the local cost of electricity.

When beginning to explore the benefits a microgrid could provide, it is important to understand the power of feasibility studies to help optimize system designs that are modular, scalable and adaptable to evolving requirements and assets in a way that is systematic, logical and addresses long-term goals. These kinds of power systems studies have been used for years to optimize electrical systems. Look for a vendor able to deliver decades of expertise honed from performing thousands of these kinds of studies, and servicing electrical systems to advance safety, reliability and sustainability. Then model your system so you know it works.

Look for a vendor able to deliver decades of expertise honed from performing thousands of these kinds of studies, and servicing electrical systems to advance safety, reliability and sustainability.

Rely on a vendor with turnkey-solution services and industry-leading expertise to make sure your microgrid power system will work and perform – from project design and feasibility studies and modeling to installation, implementation and commissioning.

Manufacturers with a full-scale operating microgrid system enable customers to ensure their system will work as intended. Visit Eaton’s Pittsburgh Power Systems Experience Center to see an operational microgrid system and its testing laboratory, which provides a controlled environment to observe performance, testing, demonstrations and training.

William Murch is the director of service for Eaton’s microgrid energy system’s business. Learn more about Eaton’s microgrid solutions and turnkey services.

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