The “macro” grid is a massive electrical network of energy sources. It connects utilities, large fossil-fuel plants, small fossil-fuel plants used to meet peaks in demand, and 24-7 control centers monitoring supply. This centralized setup hinders society’s transition from dirty energy produced in a few places to clean energy produced everywhere.
Enter microgrids. A microgrid is a localized grouping of distributed energy sources, like solar, wind, in-stream hydro, and biomass, together with energy storage or backup generation and load management tools. This system can operate as a stand-alone entity or its users can plug into the larger grid as needed.
Microgrids are nimble, efficient microcosms of the big grid, designed for smaller, diverse energy sources. The use of local supply to serve local demand makes them more resilient and reduces energy lost in transmission and distribution.
Microgrids also aid human and economic development. Globally, 1.1 billion people do not have access to a grid or electricity, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In rural parts of low-income countries, populations are best supplied with electricity from microgrids.
The growth of microgrids is expected in developed countries strengthening the resilience of electricity grids; and on developing countries in areas that currently do not have access to electricity, using renewable energy alternatives such as in-stream hydro, micro wind, distributed solar photovoltaics, and biomass and waste stream energy technologies, paired with distributed energy storage. It is assumed that these systems replace what would otherwise be the extension of a dirty grid or the continued use of off-grid oil or diesel generators. Emissions impacts are accounted for in the individual solutions themselves, preventing double counting.