Graph showing how a microgrid works

What is a Microgrid?

Did you know that diesel generators act as a primary source of electricity generation in most of Alaska’s more than 200 remote microgrids? Alaska’s power demand, outside of the Railbelt, is served entirely by remote energy grids, or microgrids.

A microgrid is an electricity distribution system that balances loads and energy resources and can be operated connected to larger, main power networks (macrogrids) or in a controlled, coordinated way as a remote islanded grid.

In many rural communities, fuel has to be transported via barge during the summer months, or costly air freight, making these communities very vulnerable to both supply chain disruptions and the high cost of oil. The state’s low population, geographic dispersion, lack of extensive road system and decentralized energy governance create natural economic and social drivers toward renewable energy integration, innovation and improved energy security.

As microgrid systems gain traction in major population centers across the globe as a means of improving energy security and resilience, eyes are turning to Alaska communities as leading examples for designing the sustainable grid architecture of the future.

Researchers looking over computer monitors.

Microgrid Research at ACEP

The Energy Technology Facility offers the unique capability to replicate remote village power plants in rural Alaska. This gives the Power Systems Integration team the ability to take a community’s energy load data, plug it into our lab SCADA system and simulate the integration of renewable energy sources like wind or solar with and without a battery energy storage system. This can save a community time and great expense and can help them make informed decisions on energy systems that could be suitable for their energy generation needs.

Partnering with communities, private industry, government, and other research institutions, the PSI laboratory also provides a controlled environment for a broad range of energy component testing, including power control technologies, in a controlled environment capable of closely mimicking a real-world scenario without the potential for damaging expensive equipment.

Two children running on boardwalk towards wind powered turbines

EdX Course: Foundations of Microgrids

ACEP’s free online course, ‘Foundations of Microgrids,’ demystifies the concepts of community-scale renewable energy electric generation and integration through incredible animations, step- by-step instruction, and virtual field trips to some of the most innovative microgrids.

This course covers fundamental concepts of microgrid design from a community-centric perspective and emphasizes a holistic approach to energy systems management. The course is online, taken at your own pace, and will cover topics including:

  • Types of microgrids and the energy and infrastructure services they provide
  • Non-grid- connected/off-grid or islanded microgrid projects and systems
  • Strategies for low-, medium-, and high- contribution renewable energy systems integration
  • Dispatchable and non-dispatchable power sources
  • System control, regulation, and optimization
  • Power electronics advances with inverters and energy storage devices
  • Different system designs as well as control and optimization strategies for converter-dominated power systems
  • The role of energy storage and inverter technologies and other power electronics, in enabling very high penetration levels of renewable resources such as wind, and photovoltaics
  • Scoping, data collection, modeling, and designing a microgrid system
This course is aimed at future engineers, non-engineers working in the community energy industry, and interested community members.