Microgrids: A Watershed Moment
microgrids to replace significant portions of Puerto Rico’s electric grid in the aftermath of 2017 hurricanes Harvey and Maria show the maturity of the technology. Microgrids offer many benefits including enhanced reliability, reduced life cycle costs, improvements in power quality and efficiency, demand reduction, reduction in fossil fuel emissions by using renewable and nuclear generation, and installation flexibility for both urban and rural applications. Experts forecast the microgrid market to reach USD 31 billion by 2027. However, microgrids might not be a silver bullet solution for problems associated with the larger electric power “macrogrid.” Because of their organic digital monitoring and control systems, microgrid networks are highly susceptible to cyberattacks and accidental or intentional electromagnetic interference-caused debilitation. Energy storage technology supporting renewable energy systems is expensive and can fail catastrophically. Furthermore, integration of microgrids into the larger existing electric power networks, without attention to protection engineering, actually increases the vulnerability of the resulting network of electric power systems. We must take care in the design and installation of microgrids because of the complexity they add to the larger electric power system including added cyberattack vectors, transient current and voltage surges engendered by rapid changes in solar and wind generation output, and microgrid component susceptibility to nuclear and directed energy electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threats. We are at a historic technological juncture with distributed microgrid energy sources gaining momentum in displacing bulk electric power. We must now ensure that we incorporate combined physical security, cybersecurity, and EMP protection engineering into the initial designs of microgrids to avoid increasing the vulnerability of our electric power networks.
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Baker, G., Microgrids: A Watershed Moment, Insight Magazine, International Council on Systems Engineering, VOLUME 23 / ISSUE 2, June 2019.