Power Packed Islands

Solar, wind, and water- are they the answers to clean energy? Each method is being explored as renewable clean energy, and they all are successful to some degree. Hawaii uses the energy from tidal waves to produce up to 22 kilowatts of power- a small amount but a good beginning. Wind farms are a long-standing success, but they come with several negatives attached. The Wind is sporadic, so massive storage for energy is required. Wind turbines are also known to kill wildlife, are very loud to operate and need wide open spaces.

Solar is in a field all its own. The sun is constant, although it varies in strength, and requires storage to meter out the energy on demand. Storage is why microgrid islands are so important.  

What is a Microgrid?

Microgrids are small sources of electricity grouped together to serve a particular area. They can connect to macrogrids which are the major supplier of electricity. Micros offer load reduction by supplementing macros when needed such as with a black out. However, these little groups of voltage can also work independently and distribute the power to areas in need.

Microgrids can be battery powered or fuelled by diesel generators. The use of petrol is quite common but has proved to be expensive and anything but environmentally friendly. Solar is the preferred resource as it is free and renewable. With sufficient power sources, microgrids can run for long periods.

These grids connect to the main grid to maintain the voltage level. Disconnecting and connecting from the main grid can be done manually or with automatic programming, providing emergency backup.

How Big of a Place Can a Microgrid Power?

While microgrids have been in use for some time, they have been used as backup sources of stored solar energy.  These grids were used to power small neighbourhoods or facilities.  Larger areas were using diesel powered generators that were expensive and not too efficient.

The island of Ta’u in American Samoa consumed up to 100,000 gals of diesel each year to provide services for a limited number of residence, about 600. With the merger of Tesla and Solar City, the island is now using a microgrid with battery backup. These changes have achieved energy independence with a sixty powerpacks and a 1.4-megawatt solar array.

The stored energy is so massive that if the sun didn’t poke its head out for three days, the residents still would not lose power. The transition from diesel almost paid for itself by eliminating the diesel and transportation costs.

Since the environmental factors of renewability are a given and emissions has been improved, and the economic value has been proven the cost of energy has been reduced significantly. The success of this initial project spurned Tesla to expand Island microgrids, and they now provide 36 percent of the total power storage.

Further developments include five islands with varying versions of microgrids to supply energy, one specifically for a generator. Tesla is not alone in this endeavour, Allotrope and their partners hope to launch a microgrid accelerator and provide energy to approximately 200 million people. Additionally, numerous other companies and countries are investing heavily in these island projects.

Are These Concerns Valid?

While most people on the planet enjoy the sunshine and the energy it provides, not all agree on the reliability. Such anomalies like inclement weather rise amid the highest concerns on the table for discussion among developers.

It is human nature to become dependent on technologies, and often time’s societies become helpless when there is even a minimal interruption in service. The thought of electricity being controlled by Mother Nature can be concerning.

No worries, the council have already begun enhancements to increase the reliability of grids constructions. Upgrades in transmission lines, increasing storage with supercapacitors and capacitor banks the system will be able to tolerate variations and maintain voltage and communication operations.  The grids will have advanced circuit protection and a fault tolerant computer in the control centres.

Further research and design are currently underway to develop a more secure holding place for the grids such as underground. Incorporating multiple sources of energy to a microgrid is another way to ensure critical facilities can function even if a terrorist attack occurs. The ability to disconnect from the macrogrid and function independently will keep such places as military bases and hospitals functioning.

Let’s face it- no infrastructure is impenetrable, however, multiple countries are coming together to achieve the highest level of security for our energy sources.

Tesla is planning to install microgrids on every island available, and why not. The initial cost of implementation, installation, and technology has become more affordable with the increase in participants allowing remote places that have never seen a light switch to light up their world. Tesla has started a fire in the world of solar energy.