November 10, 2023

Integrating Microgrids into the Existing Grid and EV Charging Infrastructure

5 Min. Read

High rates of EV adoption are creating a sharp increase in energy demand. Utility providers are exploring ways of enhancing production and distributing power more efficiently to adapt and prepare for the future of electrification.

Microgrids are emerging as a viable solution. These local power systems integrate multiple energy sources and are uniquely adapted to building a resilient and performing infrastructure for residential and commercial EV charging.

Over the next few years, the energy infrastructure will grow unprecedentedly, and microgrids will be a defining trend. Here’s what you need to know about microgrids for EV charging ahead of these changes.

Using Smart Grid Technologies for Seamless Microgrid-To-Grid Interaction

While designs vary, most microgrids combine local energy production capabilities with the primary grid. These systems rely on tech components that manage loads and discharge energy to and from the main grid.

Smart Grid Technology

A new generation of smart grid technology is emerging. These digital solutions use data, automation, AI, and other innovative elements to monitor energy demand in real-time and seamlessly switch from one power source to another. Smart grid technology also operates the complex interface with the primary grid, which entails adjusting voltage levels.

Microgrids rely on smart meters to monitor usage and ensure accurate billing in a complex energy environment. Smart meters can also help predict demand and make microgrids more responsive.

Grid management systems are another critical tech component. These digital solutions help optimize microgrids, manage failovers in case of outages, and execute best practices across a complex infrastructure.

Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority’s Microgrid

Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority leverages the latest microgrid technology to charge its electric bus fleet.

The MVTA microgrid includes a PV array, a backup generator, and integrated battery storage. The MVTA used a microgrid controller from PXiSE Energy Solutions to automate its energy system.

PXiSE Energy Solutions used historical data to predict energy needs based on weather, solar production, tariffs, and other factors. The company developed an AI model that automatically adjusts storage, sells excess energy to the grid 24 hours in advance, and makes adjustments based on real-time data.

Implementing Demand Response and Energy Management Systems for Optimized Charging

Demand response programs create incentives to reduce power consumption during peak hours. Residential and commercial customers typically benefit from a lower rate if they participate.

Demand Response and Microgrids for EV Charging

As EV adoption grows, demand response programs could play a key role in managing loads on a large scale. Integrating demand response program schedules into the microgrid management system could make a significant difference when developing microgrids for EV charging.

Instead of having EV owners charge their vehicles simultaneously and drain microgrid resources, a demand response program could establish a rotating schedule that allows the microgrid to replenish its energy storage without straining the main grid.

Estimated Cost Savings

Demand response programs have the potential to reduce costs linked to EV charging, creating unique benefits for communities and fleet managers:

  • Connecting its Richmond Medical Center microgrid to an automated demand response program resulted in savings of $40,000 to $80,000 a year for Kaiser Permanente.
  • A study found a potential cost reduction of 19% for residential microgrid users who participate in a hypothetical demand response program to charge their EVs.

Encouraging Community-Level Microgrid Projects for Localized EV Charging Solutions

Microgrids empower communities and pave the way for developing clean and resilient energy solutions at the local level.

The Benefits of Microgrids

Community-led initiatives have several benefits:

  • Microgrids enhance grid readiness and can have a positive effect on EV adoption. At the local level, high rates of EV ownership can improve air quality and public health.
  • Microgrids for EV charging can attract businesses and residents with strong environmental values.
  • Local power production makes a community more resilient in case of outages.
  • There are financial benefits for local businesses and homeowners selling excess power to the primary grid.

To achieve these benefits, communities must collaborate with local utility providers, government entities, businesses, and other stakeholders.

Microgrids and Resilience

The Blue Lake Rancheria started developing its microgrid in 2008. The tribe now has a performing microgrid with a 420 kW solar array. Besides supporting EV charging, the microgrid saves $200,000 a year in energy costs and cuts carbon emissions by 200 tons a year.

This project illustrated how microgrids can enhance resilience by powering 10% of the region and providing emergency power to first responders during the 2019-20 outages that affected California.

Challenges and Solutions in Integrating Microgrids with the Grid and EV Charging Infrastructure

There are significant technical considerations and challenges to address when designing microgrids:

  • Proper load management practices are crucial.
  • Microgrids need to store energy efficiently.
  • There should be a stable interface with the main power grid.
  • The aging energy infrastructure can require upgrades to interface with a microgrid.
  • Due to the use of digital components, cybersecurity and data privacy should be critical design considerations.
  • Regulatory barriers can be an issue, such as the absence of an existing rate schedule or meeting service obligations.

Public-private partnerships will play a crucial role in supporting the creation of new models and frameworks to address these challenges.

Future Outlook: Scaling up Microgrid Integration for Widespread EV Charging

While microgrids are still in their early stage, all the conditions are present to support the widespread adoption of microgrids for EV charging:

  • Experts predict an annual growth rate of 16% for microgrids, with grid-connect microgrids experiencing the most substantial growth.
  • With 107 GW added to global clean energy production in 2023, renewable energy systems are becoming the norm and require integration into the primary power grid on a large scale.
  • There is a need for 12.9 million charging ports to support current predictions for EV adoption by 2030, prompting the development of a new electricity infrastructure.

Building New Energy Systems

Microgrids are emerging as a viable solution for making communities resilient, providing financial benefits, and improving grid readiness for EV adoption. Potential challenges include designing an infrastructure where multiple power systems can interact seamlessly, highlighting the importance of forming public-private partnerships to find solutions.

As an electrification leader with the largest network of certified energy transition electricians in North America, Qmerit is uniquely positioned to create value for your organization and its electrification journey. Contact Qmerit today to learn more about how we’re building modern energy solutions and making electrification easy.

Author: Tom Bowen Tom Bowen President, Qmerit Solutions and Commercial Electrification