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Date / Heure
Date(s) - 25 Avr 2017
18 h 00 min - 20 h 00 min

McGill University New Residence Hall


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On April 25th and 26th, 2017, TISED hosts a two-day Research Workshop Program convening various stakeholders to on the topic of microgrids.

Part of our workshop includes an event on April 25th that is open to the public: « Is there a role for microgrids in the energy future of Quebec and Canada? » LEARN MORE AND REGISTER NOW!

Microgrids are locally controlled power systems, such as university campuses, usually grid connected, but able to operate as electrical islands. They have become an increasingly familiar power sector feature in recent years, representing one of the three legs of the smart grid stool, together with enhanced megagrid operations and grid-customer interaction. Recent reports claim dramatic growth in projects planned to around 116 GW total worldwide, of which about 43% is in world’s biggest market, North America (Navigant Research, 2016). Notably, the northeastern U.S. and Japan have embraced microgrids following the twin disasters of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Hurricane Sandy. These traumatic events represented a turning point after which not only has the concept of microgrid and its perceived benefits shifted beyond economic and environmental goals towards resilience. Consequently, microgrids have begun to find a natural place in the regulatory and policy arena. Québec, whose energy situation appears blessed in many ways, does not seem to offer a fertile landscape for microgrids. With abundant cheap carbon-free electricity, relatively undeveloped electricity markets, and faded memories of the 1998 ice storm, the province looks distinct from its neighbors to the south. This workshop will assess microgrid technology, policy, and economics and explore their potential contribution to Quebec’s energy future.

Looking at the future energy landscape that Québec will face, microgrids will likely be a feature at some uncertain level. Microgrids offer some interesting opportunities for industry entrants, and the distinction between the domains where they might be central players and not represents one of the key fault lines that must be determined. In fact, microgrids of many forms are possible, so identifying which may emerge here, defining and classifying them and observing how their roles may differ is a first analysis task. Then significance of these actors’ existence in the distribution network must be assessed, and their consequences gauged. Development of microgrids has followed a crooked path that has led to interest being currently high in the U.S. and Japan, with significant activity but with much less dynamism elsewhere, and with different drivers.

Perhaps surprisingly, microgrid history is fairly short, dating roughly from the turn of the last century. This is not to say independent power systems did not exist previously that meet the modern definitions of a microgrid. Indeed they did, rather emerging technology has greatly expanded their capabilities and the spectrum of opportunities. Many commentators have noted that the power industry began as numerous small isolated power systems, which over time have become increasingly interconnected and interdependent. While the whole world is still not fully interconnected, some major regions are, such as North America’s huge Western Interconnection encompassing most of 11 U.S. states plus some corners of others, two Canadian provinces, and a toehold in Mexico.

It is also often noted that some legacy « microgrids » survive in remote locations, unconnected to the wider grid. This line of reasoning makes it easy to dismiss microgrids as nothing new but rather a holdover or renaissance of the industry’s roots; however, this perspective misses key characteristics of the modern microgrid concept, which is conceived as a part of the whole legacy electricity supply system, not as something separate from it, and yet it is indeed semi-autonomous.

« Resilience » has emerged as the major driver for microgrids in the U.S. and Japan. This focus comes in the wake of severe natural disasters the two countries have experienced and growing concern about the extreme weather events climate change will spawn. A widely accepted definition of resilience appears in U.S. Presidential Policy Directive 21 (The White House, 2013): « … ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions. » While this definition does not make explicit that resilience is measured relative to a major catastrophe, this sense is quite clear in The Royal Society report. Current interest in microgrids then is in no small measure motivated by the promise that they have a better chance than the megagrid of delivering power during a diaster, and/or they can recover faster. To achieve this however, they must have a fuel source or adequate storage. As described below, this has indeed been true in some notable cases. Another sector that needs power under highly adverse conditions is the military, and sure enough it has shown great interest in microgrids. In the U.S. particularly, a significant effort is being made to harden power supply to bases using microgrids, primarily under a program called Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security (SPIDERS).