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Micro grids: different structures for

various applications

Tom Loix, KULeuven

February 2009

Distributed Generation
Distributed Generation


The term micro grid is mentioned more and more in publications on distributed
generation. It generally means a collection of consumers, generators and potential
energy storage entities connected together and operated as a small grid which is
connected to the main grid, but capable of operating a self-sufficient island. The micro
grid is typically linked to the grid with the help of a switch, which allows it to work both in
grid-connected as well as island mode. However, island operation is not currently
permitted in the majority of countries.

Active distribution grids

The aforementioned definition of a micro grid is a term that covers many possible
implementations. This article attempts to give a concise overview of the different
structures one encounters with micro grids. The choice of a certain structure is usually
tied into its place in the grid, where the micro grid is to be connected, who the grid’s
owner is and its principal aim.

At present, as in the past, the largest part of

electricity production occurs in large central
power stations linked with the transmission
grid. The distribution grid was a passive grid,
without sources, linked to and supplied by the
active transmission grid. Little or no distinction
was made between the different types of
consumers connected to the grid. In the case
of demand exceeding supply, loads are
disconnected to maintain the grid frequency
and parts of the grid can be suffer blackouts.
Clients requiring a highly reliable energy
supply must install a UPS system, which
shares several basic principles with the micro
grid philosophy: local energy (a battery or a
diesel generator) is used, which can work both
Figure 1: Residential micro grid in
linked in a grid as well as in an island state.
Bronsbergen, Netherlands [1] These days, there is a growing trend for active
distribution grids, where distributed sources
account for an important part of the electrical
production. These sources are linked with the distribution grid (at medium or low voltage).
In the case of network problems, it is still standard to de-energise certain loads and
disconnect distributed sources. The sources should, however, be able to support the grid.
This is important if a large amount of the production occurs in the distributed way. For the
future, the possibility of micro grids continuing to work in island mode in the case of a
fault on the electricity grid is being considered. Microgrids could even offer grid support.
Demand Side Management allows the option of shutting off particular loads (e.g. certain
household machines) in the case of demand exceeding supply. Also, consumers could
be classified into different classes, with different levels of power quality (e.g. critical load,
which sets high requirements on the availability of the mains voltage and the pollution of
it, against non-critical loads) and controllability.

Micro grids: different structures for various applications

A Utility micro grid

The first type of micro grid is a so-called utility micro grid. This is (part of) a feeder for a
distribution grid, with local energy sources
and consumers. This type of micro grid can
facilitate a large-scale introduction of
distributed sources and can locally receive
the growth of the user’s power (either
completely or partially), so that congestion
problems can be avoided or reduced. A utility
micro grid can also deliver ancillary services
to the grid, for example the local delivery or
absorption of reactive power and the
guarantee of a very good power quality for
(some of) the local users. The principal
objectives for the implementation of this
structure are the reduction in impact of grid
faults on local users (as the micro grid can, if
necessary, work in island mode, independent Figure 2: Micro grid in San Lorenzo, Ecuador
of the rest of the grid) and the simplification of
[2], an example of a remote micro grid
connecting distributed sources. This can be
applied both in urban as well as rural areas.

Industrial or commercial micro grids

Industrial or commercial micro grids form a second class of micro grid structures. These
are typically a collection of critical and/or sensitive loads requiring high power quality and
reliability. Typical examples are a data centre or a university campus, but also a shopping
centre, a factory, an industrial installation or even a residential neighbourhood. The
principal aims of this variety are an increase of the power quality, better reliability and
also frequently energy efficiency compared to the electricity grid. Potentially, different
loads can be further sub-divided into groups within the micro grid according to the
required grade of power quality and reliability. The micro grid can switch over to island
operation in the event of a grid fault, during maintenance, periods of poor power quality,
or when grid energy prices are high.

Remote micro grids

The third and final type of micro grid is the so-called remote micro grid. For the provision
of energy in remote areas, developing countries and (geographic) islands, locally
available energy sources, often renewable, are usually chosen. Combined heat and
power (CHP) may be used. An autonomous micro grid is a good network structure for
such cases, where it can also be possible to connect this micro grid to the electricity grid
in the future. There are often problems with extending the electricity grid to these remote
areas, and it is necessary to work with a pure island grid. It is thus very important that the
local generator is adequate and its energy production is sufficiently reliable to ensure that
the local consumers receive the highest possible availability in the energy provision.
Failing this, it is possible that certain loads would have to be disconnected on an irregular
basis to guarantee the stability and correct operation of the net. The application of energy
storage can help the spread of this type of micro grid to a large extent.

Distributed Generation

Of course, the emergence of such micro grids brings many changes. In a vertically
integrated market, where generation, transmission and distribution assets are in the
hands of a single entity, optimum decisions over the placement and connection of
distributed sources can be sought relatively easily. When the distribution operator is no
longer owner of the distributed sources, as can be the case in a free electricity market,
conflicts can occur between the wishes of the grid operator and those of the owner. The
owner is primarily interested in the profit of his installation, determined by the aggregated
energy production, whereas the grid operator makes his plans with regard to the
operation and expansion of the grid and the resulting necessary investments, principally
from the perspective of the (maximum) energy. Measures must thus be taken to ensure
that the distributed sources do not look only at the profits, but also contribute to attaining
an optimal operation of the entire distribution grid.

[1] S. Cobben, “Bronsbergen: The First Micro Grid in the Netherlands”, Kythnos
2008 Symposium on Micro Grids, Greece, June 2nd, 2008.
[2] X. Vallvé, “PV-Hybrid Micro Grids for Rural Electrification: Field Experience”,
Kythnos 2008 Symposium on Micro Grids, Greece, June 2nd, 2008.
[3] J. Driesen en F. Katiraei, Design for Distributed Energy Resources, IEEE Power
& Energy Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 3, May-June 2008, pp. 30-40.