Microgrids provide solutions to today’s energy challenges

ABB delivering stable, sustainable power: anytime, anywhere

The examples are plentiful:

A microgrid is enabling energy self-sufficiency for an Alaskan island.

Microgrids have brought sustainable power to one of Australia’s remotest, hottest towns – and to an Antarctic research station in one of the coldest spots on earth.

And in Kenya, a microgrid is providing a reliable electric supply for an International Red Cross center that could no longer rely on the mainland grid, while another has harnessed wind energy for a remote village that never had the option of connecting to a central grid.

Whether it’s a matter of keeping the lights on, or turning them on in the first place, microgrid technology from ABB is providing stable, sustainable power as stand-alone systems or as back-up alternatives to central utility grids. And while the installation on Robben Island, South Africa is the newest of the company’s microgrid projects, it is but one of nearly 40 ABB microgrids now in place around the world.

“We’re out on our own here in the Gulf of Alaska, so we take care of a lot of stuff ourselves,” said Darron Scott, president of the Kodiak Electric Association, an energy co-op that uses ABB microgrid technology to harness and manage its energy – 99 percent of which now comes from wind and other renewable sources. The co-op provides power to Kodiak, an island with a population of nearly 14,000 and industry that includes fisheries, logging and mining.

What is a microgrid? Essentially a small-scale power network – or a self-contained, local electrical system that can operate equally well whether or not connected to a central grid. Microgrids, which often incorporate on-site renewable energy sources like wind and solar, as well as customized battery storage systems, can help a community reduce or eliminate its use of diesel generators or other fossil-fuel sources.

Because microgrids are typically located at or near the place where energy is used, they are inherently efficient. And because the components of a microgrid – including the automation technology, batteries, power converter and control systems – can easily transported by container, they can be standardized , pre-tested and quickly installed.

ABB’s power-management technology performs the vital function of coordinating, integrating and stabilizing the energy from a variety of sources – and conducting the hand-off between sources, as when the sun sets on a solar-panel array and the grid switches seamlessly to storage batteries. And so, whether the energy is coming from wind, sun, hydro, or diesel back-up generators, ABB microgrids can ensure a stable, reliable flow of electricity at all times of day, all seasons of the year.

With such capabilities, microgrids are helping integrate renewable energy into the global power supply as the world grows increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of fossil fuels. That’s a key consideration for the world, as communities and businesses seek reliable, sustainable alternatives to carbon-emitting energy sources. It’s an even more crucial consideration in emerging-market countries, whose growing demand for reliable power will place new burdens on the environment unless they adopt clean-energy solutions.

ABB’s experience in Kenya shows the vital role that microgrids can play in emerging markets, in either a remote village or an urban setting.

In Marsabit, a windy north Kenya oasis town of 5,000 people that has no connection to the national grid, ABB created a microgrid that integrates the energy from two wind turbines with back-up power from a diesel generator.

In Nairobi, the challenge was different. There, a central utility grid serves the city, but it is plagued by frequent power outages. That’s why the International Committee of the Red Cross retained ABB to provide a microgrid to power the Red Cross’s global logistics center in Nairobi. The center employs 170 people and delivers food, medicines and relief supplies across the African continent. The ABB system integrates solar and diesel power to provide a steady supply of power.

"Reliable power is essential for our staff to continue their life-saving work uninterrupted in the field," said Peter Mauer, president of the ICRC.

ABB’s CEO, Ulrich Spiesshofer, sees microgrids playing a vital role in sustainable modernization. "Microgrids have enormous potential in Africa, where more than 600 million people live without access to electricity. This is true of many other parts of the world like the Indian subcontinent or remote and island communities," Spiesshofer said. "Reliable access to electricity is essential to speed up economic development."

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