Interested in microgrids? Don't forget security


By Ernie Hayden



Microgrids have gradually arrived on the scene for the U.S. military. And for various global utilities as a building block for the smart grid. But as the use of microgrids expands into the smart grid, operators should not forget about grid physical and cybersecurity.


Defining microgrids

First, what exactly is a microgrid?


A microgrid is any small or local electric power system that is independent of the bulk electric power network, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS).  For example, it can be a combined heat and power system based on a natural gas combustion engine (which cogenerates electricity and hot water or steam from water used to cool the natural gas turbine). Or it can be diesel generators, renewable energy, or fuel cells.


In terms of applications, a microgrid can be used to serve the electricity needs of data centers, colleges, hospitals, factories, military bases or entire communities (i.e., "village power”), according to the CRS. Opinions differ about the generation capacity that should be contained within the microgrid’s power system and whether there should be single or multiple points connecting it to the main grid.  It is essential for the microgrid to have the ability to operate either connected to the main grid or isolated as an "island,’’ whether by single or multiple disconnection points.


There has been much discussion of microgrids in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and other natural disasters.  Microgrids have surfaced as a means to assure grid resiliency.  Microgrids have proven themselves to not only provide "island power” apart from the main grid to selected key critical infrastructures but also ease the burden on the utility power operators until they can get the balance of the main grid powered and stabilized. 


These benefits should be studied by the utility operators and large regional customers - such as universities and business parks - and perhaps incorporated during the next redesign of the new smarter grid.


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