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What Is a Solar Microgrid? [How Do Solar Microgrids Work?]

Tim Carter
Written by Tim Carter Last Updated: June 19, 2022

Distributed energy resources (DER) and microgrids are two ways to make sure that electricity is always on, no matter the weather or whatever else. What is the difference between a grid and a solar microgrid? How do microgrids make power?

A microgrid is a local energy grid that can be cut off from the main grid and run on its own.

This renewable energy solution is the future of our electricity production.

Table of Contents

How Does a Solar Microgrid Work?

Solar microgrids are networks of solar power that work together. Using the sun’s energy, the system collects, stores, and sends clean electricity to a community.

Solar microgrids connect homes, businesses, and other buildings to central power sources, which lets us use appliances, heating/cooling systems, and electronics. But because everything is linked, when one part of the grid needs to be fixed, it affects everyone.

Connected to the grid, a solar power microgrid can help with this.

However, it can disconnect from the grid and run on its own using local renewable energy generation in times of emergency, like storms or power outages.

A solar microgrid provides efficient, low-cost, clean and reliable energy.

They also improve local resilience and make the regional electric grid run better and be more stable.

They give energy resources a level of responsiveness that has never been seen before.

Solar microgrid systems can help put in place more energy sources that do not put out any pollution, use waste heat, reduce the amount of energy lost through transmission lines, help manage the supply and demand of electricity, and make the grid more resistant to bad weather.

How Does A Microgrid Join The Grid?

A microgrid connects to the grid at a point of common coupling that keeps the voltage at the same level as the main grid, unless there is a problem on the grid or another reason to disconnect.

The microgrid can be cut off from the main grid automatically or by hand using a switch. It then works as an island.

Why Would A Community Want To Connect To Microgrids?

A solar microgrid is not only a backup for the grid in case of an emergency, but it can also save money or connect to a local resource that is too small or unreliable for the traditional grid.

There are many different shapes and sizes of microgrids. A solar microgrid can power just one building or a bigger area.

Distributed energy resources (DER) are small-scale sources of electricity spread out over a large area. They include solar panels on roofs, backup batteries, and diesel generators for emergencies.

Traditional generators are connected to the high-voltage transmission grid, but DER is connected to the lower-voltage distribution grid, just like homes and businesses are.

A microgrid is a renewable energy system, a smaller electric grid that can work without being connected to the main grid.

Because they can work even when the main grid is down, microgrids can help make the grid more stable, reduce grid disturbances, and act as a grid resource to help the system respond and recover faster.

What Are Distributed Energy Resources (DER)?

There are different sizes of DER and even the smallest solar panel can make energy.

Small-scale solar installations like those on rooftops make up about one-third of the solar energy made in the United States. Behind-the-meter solar refers to home solar installations.

The meter measures how much electricity a person buys from a utility. Since distributed solar is “behind the meter,” customers do not have to pay the utility for the solar power it makes.

The price to own DER varies from state to state and from one utility company to another.

Net metering is a way that utilities figure out a customer’s electric bill. They figure out how much power the customer’s solar system makes and subtract that from how much power the customer uses.

Customers get credit for the amount of power they add to the grid.

With DER, power is made right where it is used, and linked to other DER to make its use as efficient as possible.

Homes and other places that use electricity are also part-time power plants that sell their extra power to the grid and each other.

DER make it possible for power to be made and used locally.

Small, off-grid electric systems have been around for a long time.

Ships, military bases, outposts in remote areas, and communities all over the world have relied on local electricity generation and management for a long time.

DER make solar microgrids a more common choice because it is now easier to get and put energy-making equipment in neighborhoods.

Community-sized microgrids could help keep the power on during and after natural disasters like hurricanes.

Some researchers are also looking into nanogrids, which are smart electricity systems the size of a single building.

Are Solar Panels Microgrids?

Solar panels themselves are not microgrids. Solar panels and solar microgrids are not the same things.

People use the two terms interchangeably, calling the solar panels on their homes, businesses, or community buildings “microgrids” when they are not.

Solar panels connected to the power grid cannot keep the lights on when the power goes out.

A solar home goes dark if it doesn’t have a battery and an advanced inverter.

Most solar panels in the US connect to the power grid to work.

When the grid goes down, they go with it.

What Sets Solar Systems Apart from Solar Microgrids?

Both solar systems and solar microgrids use solar power to make electricity, but a solar microgrid can work without the grid.

If the power goes out, solar panels don’t work either since they are connected to the grid.

Most modern microgrids are also connected to the main grid.

However, they have a control software that can sense a disruption. At that point, they can disconnect and use their solar panels and other distributed energy resources.

So even when everyone else is without power, microgrid customers still have it.

Therefore, not only solar microgrids are good for the environment, but they also provide reliable electricity.

On the other hand, community microgrids serve the public by making sure that power is always on for essential services during a storm or emergency. They provide steady power to hospitals, emergency rooms, police stations, and other places.

When you’re installing solar panels, ask your installer whether you can turn your system into a microgrid or join one if you want clean energy that you can count on.

How Much Does A Solar Microgrid Cost?

A solar microgrid is still very expensive.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, commercial and industrial microgrids in the US cost $4 million per megawatt (MW), and campus and institution microgrids cost $3.3 million per MW.

Also, utility microgrids go for $2.5 million per MW, while community microgrids cost $2.1 million per MW.

Final Thoughts

A solar power system is not a solar microgrid on its own. Solar microgrids are not the same as solar panels.

People use the two words interchangeably, calling the solar panels on their homes, businesses, or community buildings “microgrids” when they are not.

Although still very expensive, a solar microgrid provides clean energy that works well and does not cost much.

They also make the area more resilient and help the electric grid in the area work better and be more stable.

A solar microgrid can help add more energy sources that do not pollute, use waste heat, reduce the amount of energy lost through transmission lines, help manage the supply and demand of electricity, and make the grid more resistant to bad weather.


Tim Carter
Tim Carter

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