Innovation That Matters

Solar panels are installed on commercial buildings to create independent microgrids in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are developing a new technology to manage how the microgrids work together | Photo source Fabio Andrade

Building more resilient microgrids in Puerto Rico

Agriculture & Energy

A tool lets nearby microgrids share energy with one another

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Spotted: Hurricane Maria was one of the most destructive storms ever to hit Puerto Rico. Making landfall in September of 2017, the hurricane caused widespread damage to the island’s infrastructure, including its electrical grid. Five years later, power outages are still a regular occurrence, making it difficult for residents to maintain their homes and businesses. In response, scientists from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are developing a technology to improve the reliability of microgrids even when damaged. If successful, this innovation could provide affordable, reliable, and sustainable electricity to underserved communities around the world.

When major storms or other disasters knock out power, having a backup plan is crucial. That’s where microgrids come in. Microgrids are small, local networks with their own energy supply. With the addition of battery storage, microgrids can run independently when the broader utility network fails. What the researchers at ORNL have developed is an orchestrator tool to manage a cluster of microgrids. The aim is to allow them to directly support and communicate with each other so that when one microgrid loses access to its source of energy, the adjacent microgrid could share power with it.

The tool is being developed in the Puerto Rican town of Adjuntas, where a community microgrid project is being installed with funding from local nonprofit Casa Pueblo and the Honnold Foundation. The project is an attempt to create a support system between local businesses and residents in the face of natural disasters. The idea is that the grid will provide businesses with cheaper power year round in exchange for the owners facilitating critical services and power to residents during major power outages.

So far, the orchestrator tool has been successfully tested during one week, and with the right conditions the team believes that the microgrids might be able to keep each other running for longer periods of time.

As the use of microgrids continues to grow, this innovative technology could help ensure that communities have the power they need to weather any storm.

Other microgrid innovations spotted by Springwise include a plug-and-play solar energy system and a system that brings reliable energy to off-grid communities across Africa.

Written By: Katrina Lane



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