November 7, 2023

The Role of Microgrids in the Future of Electrification


6 Min. Read

As electric vehicle (EV) adoption continues to increase, utilities must investigate and consider building a modern infrastructure that can support electrification and keep up with future needs. Microgrids are rapidly emerging as a viable energy production and distribution model in the context of EV adoption and growing electrification rates that utilities can further tap into to provide enhanced grid stability and resilience.

In this article we will cover the role of microgrids and how this technology can reshape tomorrow’s energy infrastructure.

Microgrid Technology and EV Charging

With close to 700 microgrid systems currently operating in the U.S., adoption of this technology still has room for improvement. However, as federal and state incentives foster EV adoption and other electrification technologies, deployment will continue to accelerate.

What Is a Microgrid?

A microgrid is an energy production and distribution system designed to meet the needs of a community. Some microgrids are independent, while others include an interface with the primary power grid.

Microgrids include energy-production components, such as solar arrays, wind turbines, and generators, as well as batteries that store excess energy, and a smart load controller that monitors energy input and demand to ensure energy is being efficiently stored and used.

This intelligent feature is a crucial element for balancing the load at the local level and managing the interface with the primary grid. Experts believe the electronic components that support load management and other vital features will be increasingly crucial as microgrids become more complex and more commonly adopted.

The Role of Microgrids in EV Charging

EV adoption is increasing at 30% annually, fueling the need to increase domestic electricity production by 18% before 2030.

Even so, EVs aren’t the only trend driving the need for higher electricity production. Factors such as industrial electrification and the potential adoption of battery-powered robotic solutions for assembly, warehouse, or delivery tasks add to the electricity demand.

Microgrids are emerging as a cost-effective, environment-friendly, and resilient solution to the increasing demand for energy. This scalable model allows utilities to expand production and storage as needed or roll out microgrids to remote areas.

Why Microgrids Enhance Energy Resilience

With proper design practices, the role of microgrids also encompasses building a resilient infrastructure. Here’s why this model makes sense as an effective and efficient addition to the grid.

It’s a Decentralized Approach

Current energy infrastructure uses a centralized model where many facilities cover a large service area. This approach results in ongoing energy challenges:

  • Distributing energy through power lines over long distances leads to significant energy losses, especially in hot weather.
  • A single disruption in this distribution network can affect millions, and catastrophic weather occurrences can result in power outages that last weeks or months, depending on the size of the impacted area and damage caused.
  • A single production facility can struggle to meet demand spikes, and outages caused by failure to meet critical demand can affect entire regions.

Microgrids diversify power production while moving production and storage capabilities closer to communities, eliminating the loss of energy traveling vast distances and ensure outages impacting smaller communities can be quickly repaired. Costs and energy losses linked to distribution are much lower, and having a local storage solution is also an effective backup strategy in the event of an outage.

Plus, microgrids facilitate access to improved energy production capabilities in remote areas, making access to EV charging possible, regardless of the location.

Provides On-Demand Energy Storage

The microgrid model combines energy production and storage while using smart systems to switch between the two on an as-needed basis.

This approach is vital to building flexible infrastructure that adapts to fluctuating energy demand. Utilities are already seeing significant spikes when temperatures rise, but this phenomenon will only become amplified as EV adoption and electrification progress.

Over the next two years, the total battery storage capacity could grow by 20.8 GW across the country. Many new batteries will operate locally and act as on-demand energy storage.

When the primary grid can’t meet energy demand, residential and commercial customers can draw power from their local battery energy storage system (BESS).

This approach prevents rolling blackouts and ensures customers can still access power if a blackout happens. Utilities can also use an intelligent management system to control costs, for instance, by charging local batteries when demand is low or when conditions are optimal for producing solar or wind energy.

Integrating Microgrids and Renewable Energy Sources for EV Charging Infrastructure

Microgrids can integrate multiple energy sources, including renewable power systems for residential homes and EVs with bidirectional charging capabilities. The role of microgrids in facilitating access to clean sources of energy will shape the future of the electricity infrastructure.

Clean Power on a Large Scale

The global production capability for renewable energy will reach 440 GW in 2023. In fact, low-emission power sources now represent 90% of new investments in electricity production, indicating a deliberate effort to build a cleaner electrical grid.

Microgrids have the potential to facilitate access to these resources and accelerate the adoption of renewable energy sources on a large scale.

While building a central energy production facility that generates clean power can take years and requires a significant upfront investment, microgrids allow utilities and customers to invest in smaller systems with a lower upfront cost and shorter time to market. It also provides a scalable model where communities can extend local energy production.

Each community can take advantage of renewable resources available in the area, including solar and wind power. Recent innovations in geogrids also pave the way for systems that could provide entire neighborhoods with geothermal energy for heating.

Renewable Energy and EV Charging

As EV adoption continues to grow, some questions about the environmental impact of these vehicles are emerging. While EVs don’t generate tailpipe emissions, carbon emissions are linked to energy production.

In the U.S., 39% of electricity production comes from natural gas and 17% from coal. As demand for charging increases, microgrids create an opportunity to incorporate renewable energy sources into the infrastructure instead of increasing the country’s reliance on natural gas and coal.

Bidirectional Charging Utilizes EVs as Energy Storage

An additional aspect of microgrids, particularly as it relates to electric vehicles, is the ability to utilize bidirectional charging capabilities to unlock the energy storage potential of EV batteries when not in use. With EVs capable of holding enough energy to power homes, incorporating bidirectional charging into a microgrid creates an additional source of energy.

Through net-metering and time-of-use rates, utilities can further incentivize EV drivers to sell excess energy back to the grid when demand is highest, further strengthening the grid and avoiding energy shortages. There is immense potential in combining these two technologies, and utilities should further explore the opportunity to enhance their region with greater electrification and EV charging working cohesively with the grid to further sustainability efforts.

Grid Readiness and Planning Your EV Charging Project

Grid readiness is one of the top considerations when planning an EV charging project. Microgrids address this concern by facilitating access to affordable, scalable, and reliable energy production and storage at the local level. Plus, microgrids are a cost-effective model that allows clean energy sources to be incorporated.

While adoption is still in its early stages, the role of microgrids will continue to grow, and this model will become a cornerstone of a modern energy infrastructure that supports EV charging and electrification.

If you are planning an EV charging project, assessing grid readiness in your area is an important step. With over 269,000 successful installations for EV charging stations and more than 18,500 battery system installations and the largest network of certified installers and electrical contractors for electrification services in North America, Qmerit can help assess grid readiness and recommend the best solution for your unique needs.

Contact Qmerit today to take the next step on your electrification journey!

Author: Greg Sowder

Greg Sowder

President, Qmerit Network