Keeping the Lights On

By Teresa Anderson

Other recommendations from the task force called for reports on various topics that could help fuel future action. One such recommendation was for a study to determine the cost of utility outages to different customer classes—industrial, commercial, institutional, and residential. The task force also calls on utilities to formulate long-term plans for dealing with the “graying” work force. Retiring workers, noted the task force, could compromise future resiliency.

The task force also recommended that the governor establish a group to study and report on how advances in technology could help improve resiliency, such as in the areas of communications and renewable energy.

It’s this final recommendation that most interests Dr. Eric D. Wachsman, director of the University of Maryland Energy Research Center and William L. Crentz Centennial Chair in Energy Research at the University of Maryland. Wachsman spoke to the task force about expanding the state’s use of microgrids.

A microgrid uses fuel cells to generate enough power for a business, an office park, or even a small neighborhood. There are many types of fuel cells, but the most common are powered by the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. The microgrid, which is connected to the power grid, can then draw energy from, or sell energy back to, the utility as necessary. Because the microgrid is connected to the power grid, utilities do know when power is not flowing to the microgrid.

However, microgrids have proven resilient during widespread power outages. For example, during Hurricane Sandy, the Food and Drug Administration’s research facility in White Oak, Maryland, a microgrid powered all the buildings on the campus for more than two days. “Microgrids would improve the resilience of the grid because those people have power and the utility doesn’t have to respond during an outage,” says Wachsman. “It’s a way to bring resiliency to the entire grid, and it’s a way to provide security, because it’s easy to protect.”



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