Can “islanded” electric grid systems provide electricity to smaller geographical areas?

Researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan School of Engineering are examining ways to redesign how electricity is distributed within power grids. Their research proposes a power system operation that would consist of multiple microgrids – separate grids operating like individual islands that can disconnect from the main power supply and run independently. These “islanded” systems could provide electricity to smaller geographical areas, such as cities and large neighborhoods.

“The microgrid will recognize the problem in the main power system and will isolate itself, avoiding previously inevitable power outages,” explained Yuri Rodrigues, study co-author.

In order to maintain a continued supply of power in this mode, the system will depend on locally available generating reserves. This means that conserving energy is vital to keeping the islanded grid operational for as long as possible. The microgrid can distribute power at a slightly diluted level that won’t negatively impact electronics, but would allow power to flow for longer periods without running out.

“Our new proposed method takes a more sustainable approach, allowing the microgrids to conserve power so any shortfall can be better handled by the microgrid itself,” Rodrigues says.

This new approach of conserving power that is distributed within microgrids – and thereby reducing or eliminating brownouts and blackouts – could soon be an option for power systems around the world. It would also allow for global energy conservation that would decrease the network’s demand and improve the self-sufficiency of the microgrid as a whole.

“There are many components that make up a power system from generation to distribution before electricity arrives in the outlets of consumers,” says Rodrigues. “Creating a system that is more self-sufficient, robust and sustainable is key to creating a reliable and blackout-free experience for future power consumers.”

The research was recently published in the Journal of Electrical Power and Energy Systems and was supported by several agencies in Brazil and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.