Microgrid in a box empowers small-town hydropower resilience

Microgrid in a Box combines hydropower with cutting-edge technology for a resilient energy future.
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
Embankment dam
Representational image of an embankment dam.

Krisana Sennok/iStock 

In the corner of rural Idaho, where the majestic Fall River flows through quaint small-town communities, new technology is heralding a new era of resilience for hydropower. Idaho National Laboratory (INL) recently unveiled its Microgrid in a Box, a development that promises to bolster the resilience of small-town hydropower plants, ensuring critical services during emergencies and power outages.

Imagine a powerful yet portable grid system that seamlessly integrates various energy sources like hydropower, solar panels, wind turbines, diesel generators, and even small nuclear reactors.

This creation, named the Relocatable Resiliency Alternative Power Improvement Distribution Microgrid in a Box, or RAPID MIB for short, is the result of collaborative efforts between INL engineers, private industry, and government stakeholders.

At the heart of this innovation is the idea of a "blackstart" process. Blackstart refers to the intricate process of restarting and energizing power generation units, transmission lines, and distribution systems after a blackout or widespread power disruption.

It's not as simple as flipping a switch; it requires a steady power input that many small utilities alone can't provide. But with the Microgrid in a Box coupled with existing hydropower capabilities, small communities can bounce back from emergencies and maintain stable power supply to essential services.

Thomas Mosier, INL's Energy Systems Group lead, emphasized the significance of this technology for countless communities across the country. "There are hundreds of hydropower plants like this one serving small communities across the country.

We've demonstrated new technologies that enable these communities to use the hydropower resources they already have to restart and maintain stable power to essential services, even during an emergency event."

The community ready for transformative technology

The ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating this breakthrough saw nearly 70 attendees, including representatives from utilities, government agencies, and industries from all corners of the nation. This robust turnout showcased the widespread interest in this transformative technology and its potential to revolutionize how communities prepare for and handle emergencies.

One of the standout aspects of the Microgrid in a Box is its adaptability. Its portability and capability to integrate multiple energy sources make it perfect for remote or off-grid locations. During a simulated electrical grid blackout, the Microgrid in a Box combined power from the hydropower plant, demonstrating its prowess in what was aptly called a "blackstart." This successful demonstration has ignited hope that many other rural communities with similar resources can remain resilient in the face of adversity.

INL's Energy and Grid Systems Integration group lead, Kurt Myers, explained the significance of the Microgrid in a Box's versatility. "Combining the tech built into the Microgrid in a Box with the existing capabilities of the Fall River plant, we're showing how communities with limited resources can recover and continue to function during an emergency."

INL is enhancing the ability of power utilities to recover from blackouts, ultimately minimizing the impact on communities and critical infrastructure. The Microgrid in a Box represents a glimpse into the future of energy resilience for small towns, where innovation and collaboration shine brightly like the sun setting over the serene waters of the Fall River.

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