By Kevin Frazzini
From overloads to superstorms, America’s electrical grid faces serious, persistent threats. But, as reported in State Legislatures magazine this month, new technologies are helping lawmakers keep the lights on when trouble strikes.
Microgrids, for example, are systems that can generate and distribute electricity in conjunction with the main electric grid or independently from it during power outages.
The one at Princeton University in New Jersey draws electricity from a gas-turbine generator and solar panel field near campus. It can produce 15 megawatts of electricity and works alongside the main grid, which serves a 13-county area and is maintained by a utility company. When campus power use is high or utility power is inexpensive, the microgrid draws from the main grid. When demand is low, the microgrid contributes power to the utility.
In an emergency, the microgrid can disconnect completely and generate all the power the campus needs. That’s exactly what happened in October 2012, when Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to nearly 8 million people across 15 Eastern states, including New Jersey. The utility restored power long enough for Princeton to restart its turbine, which then took over and supplied power to the campus. The university’s outage lasted about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, the lights were out in Manhattan for two days. In some other areas it took nearly two weeks to restore power.
Lawmakers are beginning to see the light. Of the 24-plus microgrid bills introduced in 17 states last year, six were enacted. Read the story to learn more about the laws and other new energy technologies.
Kevin Frazzini is the assistant editor of State Legislatures magazine.