In a mission-critical application, power availability and reliability will always be the highest priority. Whether an outage lasts for several minutes or it’s a prolonged energy shortfall, like what we experienced with the 2022 heat waves in California or the major winter storm in Texas in 2021, disruptions to the power grid can greatly hamper our medical, financial, and other critical systems.

But resiliency in times of grid outages isn’t the only thing keeping the leaders of mission-critical organizations up at night. According to Deloitte Research Center for Energy & Industrials, the electrical power industry predicts U.S. electricity demand could triple by 2050. For data centers and other mission-critical applications, this unprecedented demand poses a significant challenge to their business continuity and ability to expand operations. As construction plans roll out to keep up with the global demand for more data, some major players in the data center industry have faced backlash from both the public and utility companies concerned about the strain these projects would put on the grid, while sustainability experts worry about the impact of increased use of diesel generators and fossil fuels on the environment. This brings to mind the conundrum of painting yourself into a corner, but in this case, patiently waiting for the “paint” to dry isn’t going to work.

To alleviate the pressure of maintaining both availability and business continuity, more organizations are subscribing to the idea of B.Y.O.P., or “bring your own power,” through the use of a microgrid. A microgrid is a self-sufficient energy system that serves a discrete geographic footprint, such as a mission-critical site or building, and uses one or more kinds of distributed energy that store or produce power.

A core component of microgrid technology is the use of “always on” distributed energy resources (DERs) that operate via switchgear and are controlled by an intelligent microgrid controller. DERs may include assets such as solar panels, thermal energy storage, combined heat and power, wind power, fuel cells and reciprocating engine generators, linear generators, and turbines. Installing a variety of DERs allows an organization to pick and choose among fuel sources to improve availability, rely less on the utility grid, ensure business continuity, and contribute to decarbonization goals.

The shift from diesel generators to microgrids and DER

Diesel generators have long been the preferred option of operators for extended backup power in mission critical facilities. However, the unused, stranded power of diesel generators and other assets isn’t an ideal allocation of resources. Additionally, these assets are not always on and may not perform as expected in the case of an outage. Having diesel fuel generators also requires on-site fuel storage and adds to a facility’s carbon footprint through Scope 1 emissions. These factors have led many operators to seek alternatives that can improve resiliency in the event of an outage and positively contribute to an organization’s sustainability goals.

Microgrids using always-on DERs offer a range of flexible benefits that traditional grid systems can’t match. Central grids deliver electricity from power plants over long distances via transmission and distribution lines. Sending power over long distances is inefficient because some electricity — sometimes as high 8 to 15% — dissipates in transit. For mission-critical organizations, microgrids with DERs provide an essential backup power source and ensure on-site availability in case of outages or natural disasters. This capability, known as “islanding,” allows the microgrid to generate power and ensure reliability when a storm or other event causes an outage on the power grid. This can help protect people and critical assets and data in the event of an outage.

A microgrid can disconnect from the central grid and operate independently. This means microgrids can enable greater control over local energy production, which helps ensure business continuity for organizations challenged with sourcing the power they need to operate. Finally, a microgrid can be configured to prioritize renewables, such as solar, wind, and hydrogen fuel cells, switching to fossil power only when the situation requires it. This helps organizations reduce carbon emissions and positively contribute to their sustainability goals.

Maximizing grid services with DERs

In addition to its performance and sustainability benefits, microgrid controllers with always-on DERs can be a strong investment for organizations, because they enable them to participate in the reserve markets and reap financial rewards. Below are two examples of grid services this technology offers.

Voltage and frequency services — Microgrid owners can use DERs to opt into their utility’s paid service when connected to the grid. The utility grid operator will provide a direct command control sequence to the microgrid controller, which commands the system to assist the utility in maintaining local grid power quality. After this, the controller issues commands to one or all of the DERs to respond to the utility’s requirement.

Time of use load management — The microgrid controller is expected to manage the load during an islanding event, but it can also do so during grid-connected mode. The controller can recommend and activate loads at various times of day when utility rates are favorable but don’t overly impact client operations. During the utility-connected mode of operation, a microgrid owner can use the always-on DERs in the grid to opt into paid service by the utility companies. Once the utility grid operator issues a direct command control sequence to the DERs, the microgrid controller feature commands the system to assist the utility. The grid and microgrid services work together to improve local grid power quality.

A microgrid design can be as unique as the business deploying it. Therefore, it’s important to work with a trusted microgrid equipment provider that can assist from concept and design to installation, commissioning, and servicing throughout the site’s life to ensure success. To learn more about the benefits of microgrid technology, download Vertiv’s white paper, “What Is A Microgrid And How Does It Work .”