Energy companies are now taking a close look at distributed energy and microgrid technologies. This is a good thing. Microgrids also need advanced communication networks to operate at peak efficiency. It’s a fact.
Microgrids offer incredible potential benefits, including the ability to disconnect from the traditional power grid and provide electricity during blackouts, natural disasters and cybersecurity incidents, while remaining coordinated with local utilities. . However, they need advanced communication capabilities to operate at peak efficiency.
Incidents such as the recent cyberattacks on US utility control rooms and the destruction of Puerto Rico’s power grid resulting from Hurricane Maria threaten critical and sensitive facilities in the United States (hospitals, emergency responders, systems transport, defense bases, residences for the elderly and even wholesale food markets). With microgrids, however, facilities can isolate themselves from affected regions of the traditional grid. To be fully efficient and integrated, they are integrated into distributed energy management systems and virtual power plants for demand response and optimal energy flow.
However, just having a micro-grid is not a silver bullet, as its security and stability relies on advanced networks to maintain coordination and connection. Operation with communications networks that traditionally rely on Internet Protocol (IP) networks presents architectural vulnerabilities in areas such as service and data privacy. If these networks are compromised, the benefits are essentially nullified.
This is why microgrid operators need advanced secure backbone communication systems not only to ensure that they are optimally integrated with other network assets and can coordinate with local utilities, but also so that they can function individually and not be overloaded during disasters or even large public events.
Unfortunately, many of today’s networks are based on technologies that are either abandoned by commercial operators (for example, 2G and 3G technologies) or based on limited capacity, such as decades-old private radio systems that cannot meet the changing needs of today’s critical infrastructure industries. Critical infrastructure industries need access to advanced broadband technology in a separate and secure environment, just as emergency responders will have access to the FIRSTNET system.
Revolutionary broadband spectrum could be readily available today to enable the advanced capabilities critical infrastructure industries and microgrid operators need to meet their ever-changing needs. But some rules governing the use of such spectrum have not been updated for over 30 years.
Fortunately, the current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can make changes to the administrative rules governing the radio spectrum that microgrid operators could use. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Commission staff are already working on drafting a regulatory proposal notice (NPRM) for the 900 MHz frequency band, which would allow the energy sector to ” access the aforementioned broadband spectrum.
But the work cannot stop there. State regulation of microgrids is also the subject of significant debate. Public utility commissions (PUCs) across the country are assessing the role microgrids can play in meeting the energy needs of their states and considering the funding required to build and operate these microgrids.
There is no doubt that there is often reluctance against many initiatives that aspire to be included in the rate base of an electricity utility and subsequently in consumer rates. I understand. As governor, I was well aware of the need to focus on keeping rates low.
However, it sometimes happens that innovative concepts deserve to be included in the rate base of an electric utility. Microgrids and the communications systems on which they depend to function effectively fall into this category.
Of course, applicants must demonstrate that the benefits of their microgrid proposals outweigh the costs to consumers. But the reliability and safety efficiency benefits of these systems are clear.
The bottom line is that regulators, taxpayers and end users need to understand that the long-term benefits of micro-grid projects and their communication systems far outweigh the short-term costs of funding them.
–Jack Markell was the former Democratic Governor of Delaware from 2009 to 2017.