Local entrepreneurs or property developers can build independent commercial-grade microgrids, which, through a combination of multiple renewable- or nonrenewable- energy sources, can provide sufficient energy for clients or tenants at a reasonable cost, says micro- grid consultant Brightmerge director Daniel Schwab.
The company’s primary goal is to provide the knowledge and expertise that will enable local project developers to build their own microgrids. He notes that, while a microgrid system can be completely independent of the national grid, the initial investment cost of obtaining an off-grid system exceeds what most individuals and companies can afford. However, based on the price increases from Eskom and the alternative of diesel generators, building a microgrid with a combination of solar, wind and battery power, will result in a lower total cost to the consumer.
Ideally, microgrids will bridge the power gap between the national grid and a property’s electricity needs. Schwab cites an example of a solar/wind hybrid system, explaining that the solar photovoltaic system and the wind turbine could be connected to an inverter and battery, as well as a power control unit that regulates the current feeding into the distribution circuit, which connects to the users or consumers. The current is regulated by the inverter and battery so that there are no variations in the amount of electrons supplied.
“This is very similar to the national grid, but on a smaller scale, and any combination of coal, gas and pumped hydro needs to be managed in a similar way,” Schwab points out.
He reiterates that, depending on the developer’s needs, the grid can be operated independently or it can be connected to larger grids so that it can sell electrons into the main grid, should there be a surplus.
Schwab affirms that this solution can be used for businesses and private communities, and that most of the challenges relating to the use of microgrids are regulatory, such as obtaining the correct permits and licences from regional and local authorities.
Moreover, energy storage technology can be and is often used to provide backup supply for the microgrids. Schwab notes that the system would then need a diesel generator or a fuel cell to run about 10% of the time to reduce operating costs.
Brightmerge offers the full spectrum of microgrid, service options – from designing to operating a microgrid on a daily basis. The company’s step-by-step guide, the Energy Blueprint, steers clients through all the design stages of a microgrid through a Web interface, including identifying energy requirements, choosing power sources, cost analysis, simulating power scenarios, engineering consulting, locating vendors and finding training courses for their clients.
After clients have designed and implemented their micro- grid, Brightmerge’s online modules enable them to operate the grid by maintaining a database and the billing of their tenants. The Web-based software enables clients to monitor their microgrid’s performance and simulate different scenarios to calculate the optimal load balance to provide tenants with the best price, compared with that of the local grid.
The company’s cloud-based solution is designed for maximum ease of use, with the nonengineer in mind, guiding clients through not only all the design stages but also demand analysis, feasibility studies and obtaining municipal permits. The online solution also generates key documents such as plans and quotes.