Why microgrids are making progress in the Midwest



Quick Take:  Until recently, microgrid projects were typically limited to places with special needs. Military bases, for instance, or areas subject to natural disasters where microgrids promised greater reliability thanks to their ability to island from the main grid during outages.


But thanks to falling prices and rising capabilities, microgrids are beginning to penetrate into the Midwest, even in those areas not subject to superstorms and hurricanes, as documented recently by Midwest Energy News. We're getting closer to the inflection point where microgrids will become a legitimate option for almost any campus or industrial park. - By Jesse Berst


As reliability concerns climb and microgrid costs drop, Midwestern universities are installing or investigating microgrids. "Higher education facilities ... really need to have reliable power, and unfortunately, the United States’ electrical grid is less reliable now than it was in the past,” said Peter Strazdas, associate vice president of facilities management at Western Michigan University told Midwest Energy News. "That’s driving a lot of this microgrid conversation.” His campus converted a coal-fired plant into a cogen facility in the 1990s and has since stepped gradually towards a microgrid, which is now "90% there."


Other schools have built or announced microgrid projects in the region, including the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Missouri University of Science and Technology, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


Another reason for the increased interest is aggressive microgrid marketing from companies such as Honeywell Building Services. Honeywell touts the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s White Oak campus in Maryland, which kept power on during Hurricane Sandy by islanding its Honeywell-built microgrid.


As microgrid economics continue to improve, the microgrid market will move from its current focus on customers with a high need for ultra-reliable power. Michael Burr is the Director of the Microgrid Institute. Today's projects are primarily intended to prove out the technology. But the next wave of projects, he believes, "\\are going to be the ones that start to show how microgrids are actually cost competitive against utility grid power."


Jesse Berst is the founder and Chief Analyst of SGN and Chairman of the Smart Cities Council, an industry coalition.


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