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By Megan Wild
February 13, 2017
Heavy-duty construction projects typically consume a lot of energy. Besides the fuel needed to operate bulldozers, backhoes and cranes, the common jobsite features numerous tools that require electricity. While this might not be a problem if you're in the middle of a city and have access to the neighborhood's power grid, remote locations require a little more hardware. This is exactly where a microgrid comes in handy.
Most of today's microgrids are used to power small communities and neighborhoods. However, microgrids are already showing a lot of potential for applications on large construction sites. A number of organizations and companies have already shown their interest in the niche, including the National Renewable Energy Agency, the U.S. Energy Information Administration and Caterpillar.
Perhaps the biggest problem tied to the modern microgrid is the caveat that they usually require diesel fuel. While alternative energy generators, such as solar and wind, can be used as complementary systems, current inefficiencies in the technology still require a more reliable and stable source of energy.
Microgrids aren't appropriate for every single jobsite. You can typically finish smaller projects with lesser carbon footprints by tapping into the community's permanent power grid. If that's not an option, conventional, gas- or diesel-powered generators can be used with minimal environmental impact.
Larger projects stand to benefit immensely from the implementation of microgrids. These jobs, which would require numerous conventional generators or access to a local power source, tend to produce a significant carbon footprint.
Other jobsites simply aren't reachable by today’s standard power infrastructure. While this is more commonplace in smaller countries and regions, there are isolated areas of the United States that rely on alternative forms of energy.
Those who want a user-friendly introduction to the microgrid will be interested in Caterpillar's microgrid solutions. Specifically designed to reduce your fuel expenses, decrease emissions, and lower the overall cost of ownership, Cat's microgrids are able to accommodate a wide variety of power needs. Moreover, the fact that they’re highly portable and easily deployable means you can use the hardware nearly anywhere.
Whereas microgrids of the past were clunky, archaic, and not user-friendly at all, today's iterations, sometimes referred to as smart grids, are extremely simple and easy to understand. Most come equipped with a number of digital displays and interfaces, which clue you into such metrics as current usage, maximum capacity, operating temperature, and more.
Some grids are even accessible via computer software, letting the operator allocate resources, adjust timing specifications, and monitor conditions from a PC. Furthermore, they’ll require little to no training to read and interpret the data.
A recent microgrid project based in Texas is even incorporating network connectivity in order to enhance controls and efficiency. Referred to as the "Internet of Energy," the campaign seeks to incorporate other energy-related hardware, such as batteries, lighting controllers, and switches to bolster the artificial intelligence of future microgrid installations.
Devastating natural disasters can strike anywhere and at any time. A recent earthquake in Japan knocked out electricity for approximately 8 million citizens for nearly two weeks. In India, struggling power plants were ultimately unable to meet the nation's demand. As a result, nearly 10 percent of the Earth's population was left without electricity for days on end.
Modern microgrids have a real pertinent use in emergency and disaster response. The U.S. National Library of Medicine's National Institutes of Health recently formed the MED-1 Green Project to provide ad hoc power in the event of a community disaster. The initiative hopes to serve as the basis and industry standard for other medical facilities and disaster response teams.
If nothing else, people can use microgrids during the post-disaster cleanup and construction phase. This eases some of the burden on local utility companies while still providing access to the necessary services, tools, and materials needed for the job at hand.
While microgrids have yet to see widespread usage within certain industries, many forecasts point to a large-scale introduction in the near future. With so much relevancy to large construction sites, disaster response, and environmental protection, it won't be long before the modern microgrid becomes commonplace on jobsites all around the world.
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