For each day that passes, energy becomes a larger concern. After all, as the population continues to grow, energy needs rise right along. However, there is a fast-growing and constantly evolving solution that should help for years to come: Microgrids.
There are various forms of microgrids, but the basic definition is a set of interconnected energy sources capable of running independent of the national power grid. There is no doubt that microgrids will become more ubiquitous in coming years, but here are five industries already using them to their advantage.
You probably already know what happens to milk when it's not kept properly cool. If not, here's a spoiler alert — pun intended — it goes bad.
With that in mind, a power outage at a dairy plant can have serious consequences. Even a short outage can cause a dairy plant to shut down for six to twelve hours since food safety rules require plants clean and sterilize their equipment after they shut down.
That's where microgrids come in. A dairy plant connected to a microgrid can ensure it won't shut down should there be a local power outage. That saves the plant the time and money it would lose if it had to stop production for half a day or longer.
There are other advantages as well. The plant can reduce its overall spending on energy and help meet the company's sustainability goals.
Anyone who follows politics knows the military receives a substantial amount of federal spending, with more on the way if the current administration gets its wish.
Regardless, there are ways the U.S. military could cut down its current costs. A recent report says it could save hundreds of millions of dollars annually by using microgrids for its bases rather than diesel backup generators.
Make no mistake — the U.S. military is already the national leader in microgrid development. The report's point is that it has only scratched the surface and could become much more efficient by relying on them instead of diesel.
After all, the military definitely uses its fair share of energy. The Department of Defense consumes roughly one percent of the country's electricity across its nearly 300,000 facilities.
The benefits of a city or municipality using microgrids are the same as they are for other industries or applications. It can reduce energy costs, prevent disturbances that might affect the national grid, and make local energy generally more reliable.
Microgrids can give municipalities more control over energy costs and help them make use of cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar as well.
For example, a case study on a tropical island looked at how a hybrid microgrid — in this case using solar and diesel energy — could help conserve energy in a given year. A system that used rooftop solar panels and grid stabilization resulted in fuel savings of five percent, while a microgrid with energy storage bumped that up to seven percent.
For an idea of how microgrids can help college and university campuses, look no further than Princeton University during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The university is known for having one of the best microgrids around, and it proved it during the superstorm. Princeton was able to produce heating, cooling and electricity on campus during the storm, while most of the rest of the state of New Jersey dealt with power outages.
The microgrid also helps nearby residents year-round by exporting power to the main grid when the university's needs are already met.
With more and more states legalizing marijuana in various forms, what was once a niche industry has become more mainstream. That has led to a need for more energy within the legal cannabis cultivation market.
There are now hybrid microgrids for cannabis cultivation, which use solar, storage and combined heat and power to reduce the energy used during indoor cultivation.
Such microgrids can ease another problem — the murky status of marijuana and its varying legality across the country. Because of marijuana's federal classification, the Department of Energy isn't allowed to help utility companies, making microgrids that much more valuable.
The technology within the microgrid sector continues to advance rapidly, even at this early stage. That means the list of varied industries already making use of microgrids should continue to grow for the foreseeable future.