US microgrids powered by renewable energy will grow over three-fold to 32.8GW installed capacity by 2030, creating almost 500,000 jobs, and generating $72bn in gross domestic product growth and $146bn in business sales, according to a new report by consultant Guidehouse Insights.
“Most microgrids feature hybrid renewable and fossil fuel assets. The emergence of more cost-effective energy storage enables an increased reliance on renewable energy,” said the authors of the report, The Renewable Energy Economic Benefits of Microgrids.
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The report defines a microgrid as a distribution network incorporating a variety of possible distributed energy resources that can be optimised and aggregated into a single system. This system can balance loads and generation and run while disconnected from the traditional utility power grid.
“Simply put, interest and adoption of microgrids are growing because they help provide reliable, affordable, and resilient energy,” said the authors. “They are the future.”
US interest in renewable energy microgrids has surged in the last several years as they provide resiliency in the face of climate change-driven extreme weather that has battered existing grids, most notably in California, Louisiana, and Texas.
As microgrids generate energy locally, they also reduce the amount of energy that is lost through electric transmission lines, heat, and other efficiencies.
As well, when placed “strategically” within the larger network, microgrids help alleviate grid congestion, lowering electricity prices and reducing peak power requirements, according to the report, which focuses on the economic impact of six different renewable microgrid technologies measured through job creation: distributed generation (DG), biomass, hydro, PV and wind, and energy storage and microgrid controls.
While all six technologies are expected to see significant investment and growth this decade, solar and energy storage are the most dominant today. DG wind is most deployed in remote microgrids, often in hybridised systems that may include solar, diesel generation, or battery energy storage.
The report estimates that renewable microgrid assets in 2030 will account for 496,700 jobs – versus 17,300 now - including 238,410 in energy storage, 172,050 in PV and 40,560 in biomass. California is expected to capture about one-third of those new jobs.
Between 2015 and September this year, 23 states enacted legislation promoting deployment of microgrids including Texas and California, the two largest state electric power markets.
A potential headwind in an otherwise upbeat scenario for renewables powered microgrids is US over-reliance on imported battery and solar components primarily made in China.
“To maximise the economic benefit of future microgrids in the US, the federal government should look to implement policies to increase domestic market share from the current 15% and 8% for solar PV and energy storage, respectively,” said the report’s authors.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act recently signed into law by President Joe Biden earmarks $27bn for grid infrastructure and to enhance resiliency and reliability.