Maintenance is Key: Unlocking Successful Microgrids for the U.S. DoDBack to Top
Microgrids have become an attractive solution for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to meet increasing energy-resiliency requirements. With the ability to operate autonomously from the grid, incorporate existing infrastructure, and integrate cybersecurity technology, microgrids are the perfect opportunity for federal entities to make mission-threatening outages a thing of the past.
There’s only one problem: Early DoD microgrid deployments have often lacked long-term maintenance plans essential in keeping an advanced microgrid operational.
System operators of these early projects did not fail to foresee the need for regular updates and maintenance. However, early federal microgrids were funded as demonstration projects, which simply did not allot funds for system upkeep. In these early stages of microgrid implementation, the focus was on the initial capital investment and planning required to get the microgrid deployed, tested, and operational.
The substantial capital invested initially into a microgrid can be wasted just a few years later if the microgrid is not maintained, which simply isn’t possible if long-term maintenance isn’t considered at the start of the project. Fortunately, funding models now account for maintenance throughout the lifespan of the microgrid.
As the equipment that orchestrates the components of a microgrid, a strong understanding of the hardware, software, and cybersecurity maintenance isn’t just important, it’s essential.
An annual system check-up can help ensure operational success and that evolving cybersecurity standards are met. These check-ups test the basic operations of the system and identify aspects that may require follow-up maintenance. This may include testing the microgrid controls; upgrading hardware, firmware, communications; mitigating bugs; and conducting training refreshers.
If all this information seems overwhelming, keep in mind we are only considering the controls. Imagine how complicated this process becomes once it includes the generation assets, communications, network infrastructure, and all other microgrid components. Monitoring this can be incredibly cumbersome if a plan isn’t developed, funded, and implemented upon system handover.
The good news is there are already numerous solutions available to simplify microgrid support. Intelligent microgrid controls can track system performance over time through data collection visualized through the user interface. This provides system operators insight into operational behavior, allowing them to analyze data and make informed important maintenance decisions. Additionally, a readily available solution is using the expertise of your microgrid deployment team to manage the maintenance of your system for you.
On the more innovative side of microgrid maintenance, artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly becoming a realistic pathway to improve operational efficiency in several commercial applications, such as finance and health care. It’s not difficult to foresee the use of AI or machine learning to track, predict, and visualize microgrid maintenance. In fact, the best control technology available already implements AI by leveraging knowledge of microgrid behavior and translating this information when designing new systems. It does so by recognizing similar aspects of previous microgrids and automatically generating applicable control algorithms to satisfy a wide variety of use cases and desired functionality.
Now, imagine if these advancements could offer the ability to set dynamic maintenance timelines, sense aberrant equipment behavior, and predict system failures before they have a chance to impact system functionality. In the federal sphere, this capability could be a game-changer further enhancing the energy surety essential to DoD operations.
What do you think the future holds for microgrids in the DoD and how new technology can revolutionize the complicated microgrid care process?
August 27, 2019