Thomas Fenimore / Technology Development Manager

Green Microgrids Could be a New Growth Initiative

Microgrids aren’t new. But Duke Energy’s efforts to power them with renewable energy have caught the attention of the industry.

In simple terms, a microgrid is an energy system consisting of distributed energy sources – like solar and batteries – that can operate in parallel with, or independently from, the main power grid.

It promotes energy security – giving customers a reliable energy supply without the need of the full energy grid, or even fossil fuels.

For the past few years, Duke Energy engineer Tom Fenimore has been perfecting a research project in Charlotte that provides backup power to a city fire station. Using a solar array and a large battery system, the system supports the overall grid most of the time.

But when storms rolled through Charlotte this summer, the system provided power to the fire station twice – without any action by the company. The system was so fast that the fire station didn’t notice the microgrid was providing power.

Duke Energy’s work is leading to future projects. At Mount Sterling in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, a proposed microgrid will provide 24-hour-a-day service to a communications tower.

In this case, the microgrid concept will be more reliable and less costly for the company than traditional poles and wires. In addition, about 13 acres of park land currently maintained as a utility corridor could be allowed to return to a natural state.

In Maryland, Duke Energy Renewables and Schneider Electric will partner with Montgomery County to construct two microgrids for public safety facilities. The two systems, which will be owned by Duke Energy, will include solar and combined heat and power, which saves energy by using waste heat from on-site generation to heat and cool buildings.

In Mount Holly, N.C., the company continues to research future microgrid developments – examining how the technology works in a future where distributed energy resources like solar and batteries are on nearby electrical circuits.

It’s part of the company’s innovation that may change how energy is delivered to customers in the future.