A recognised industry voice for microgrids

A recognised industry voice for microgrids
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by Terry Mohn, Chairman, International Microgrid Association

The microgrid industry has grown at a rapid speed over the last few years, and estimates indicate it will only continue to grow – the global market for microgrids is expected to be valued at $US30 billion in 2022. As the industry expands, it’s increasingly important that the industry has a recognised voice, and the International Microgrid Association has emerged as the organisation to provide that trusted voice.

Terry Mohn

Within the energy industry, we are witnessing increasing penetration of distributed generation resources, such as solar PV, energy storage, and microgrids – which are small-scale versions of a centralised electric grid. Microgrids can generate, distribute, and manage power and energy locally within a customer’s or region’s defined area – with or without the utility connection.

When properly designed, built, optimised and operated, microgrids can achieve important goals for their owners, including economic power, reliable energy, resilience energy, and minimised environmental impact. 

Microgrids are developed by property owners and investors who wish to achieve levels of improved energy performance. Microgrids range in size from single buildings to large seaports and communities. In developing countries, they can be designed for villages and urban areas which are not covered by a local utility. 

All microgrid installations are intended to be self-sufficient and to operate independently from the larger grid. In many cases, the electric grid can remain connected, if it’s available, and the microgrid can even be designed to export services back into the grid. 

Microgrid technology has evolved over the past decade and now incorporates low-cost generation (such as solar, batteries, wind and thermal), as well as sophisticated control and communication systems that balance the flow of energy between all of its parts. In the case of residential subdivision microgrids, much of the electric generation is supplied by solar rooftops. The challenge is to balance energy flow across the entire system to maintain reliability, efficiency and carbon emissions. 

Enter the IMA 

Established in February 2019, the International Microgrid Association (IMA) focuses on microgrids’ contribution of emerging solutions in key energy sector areas – energy cost, energy availability and the seamless ability to incorporate renewable technologies into the power portfolio. 

The IMA is a growing coalition of members involved in the global microgrid value chain and includes such companies as Cisco, Schneider Electric, Telstra, UWA, Woodside, ATCO Gas and Horizon Power. All IMA members are committed to leading change and rapidly progressing the global microgrid sector. 

The IMA focuses in three main microgrid industry structures: policy/regulatory models, standards and technology, and business models. The Association aims to evaluate existing global ideas in each area, recommending which to adopt for industry growth, which to improve, and identify potential gaps. 

The IMA strategically defines and communicates use-case specific blueprints that will build and broaden the global microgrid market opportunity and articulate sound industry investments. Business opportunity areas that will be pursued include industrial (ports, campuses, municipalities) and rural (islands, developing countries, energy poverty). 

The IMA provides a platform where both local and international members, which represent a broad range of interests in the microgrid value chain, can meet, exchange ideas and work cooperatively on a common set of issues with the goal of moving microgrids towards the digital, decarbonised, decentralised energy future. An inherent outcome is economic growth for members and the regions where they work. 

Aiming to represent the voice of the industry, key operational, technical and market issues will be investigated and promoted; ultimately intending to educate stakeholders and foster the development and adoption of microgrid solutions focusing on a transformed electric power system. The IMA can illustrate the reliability, resilience, security and interoperability that electric systems can derive by supporting investment and acceleration of innovative, cost effective microgrid technologies and capabilities across the world. 

The key value for members of the IMA include: 

  • Enabling cross-sector collaboration that will build a team with capabilities to accelerate microgrid market awareness and speed to market 
  • Amalgamation of issues (policy, economics, engineering) to communicate a consistent message  about the value of microgrids to stakeholders 
  • Integration of local businesses into domestic and global supply chains thus developing a broader workforce capability and export potential in energy related fields 

The IMA is committed to driving economic growth through the fostering of cross-sector collaboration across the global microgrid value chain, enabling a transformed electric power system and unlocking the future potential of microgrids. 

Educating the industry on the benefits of microgrids 

A number of benefits arise from localising the management and control of energy resources in the form of microgrids. They include: 

  • Economics: as utility electric prices (both energy and demand) have either become unpredictable or are escalating too high, microgrids provide balanced control of energy production and demand lead to lower pricing
  • Reliability: energy users require higher energy availability than can be provided by traditional sources. Microgrids can supply much more stable voltage and frequency using advanced control systems
  • Resilience: energy users have suffered, and cannot afford, too many storm or other frequent outages with longer than acceptable restoration times. Microgrids, supplying energy production closer to the loads, minimise the effects due to weather or fires
  • Environmental impact: many utilities do not share the users’ standards for levels of carbon emissions. Microgrids can supply many types of renewable energy, including those supplied by customers’ rooftops

The IMA will be providing public educational content on solutions that can be applied across all regions and circumstances. It intends to work directly with government agencies and multi-lateral banks to ensure a stable, sustainable energy future for all. 

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