Microgrids vs. Backup Power

Microgrids supply energy for regular use and only rely on the main power grid when there is not enough energy in the microgrid. Backup Power systems rely on the main power grid for regular use and only use the backup power when the main power grid has an outage.

Are you deciding if you are ready to upgrade your backup power system to a microgrid for more energy independence in California? Perhaps you’re looking for a solution for when California’s main power grid has an outage. 

Keep reading to learn more about the difference between microgrids and backup power.

This Access Electric blog post will compare the benefits and challenges of microgrids and backup power. We’ll explain why microgrids are the best option for energy independence.

Difference Between Microgrids and Backup Power

A microgrid provides energy independence regularly, but backup power is only for when the traditional power grid has an outage. Another key difference is that microgrids can utilize renewable energy sources. 

Backup Power and Microgrids both provide help when the traditional power grid is unreliable. In California, power grid failure reasons include:

  • Wildfires
  • Public safety shut-offs
  • Strong winds
  • Thunderstorms
  • Degradation and age of the above-ground power grid 
  • Scheduled power grid maintenance
  • System unable to keep up with demand
  • Earthquakes
  • Snowstorms

Let’s explore the pros and cons of backup power and microgrids.

Backup Power Benefits

Backup power is important to efficiency and safety because it provides energy when your traditional California power grid fails. Having backup power also protects your equipment from damage during main power grid failure.

Backup power saves money by preventing downtime, production loss, and damages when the main power grid fails.

If your business isn’t ready for a microgrid, ensure it has a reliable backup power source. Backup power can come from a backup battery or a gas-powered generator. Gas-powered generators can use natural gas or diesel.

Natural gas generators have the benefit of being a relatively clean-burning fossil fuel. Supply lines are usually underground, so they are less likely to be disrupted than the main power grid during inclement weather.

Drawbacks of Backup Power

Each type of backup power on its own has clear disadvantages. The most common types of backup power sources are batteries and gas-powered generators. Disadvantages range from cost, life span, maintenance, and environmental impact.

Let’s take a closer look at the disadvantages of using each type of backup on its own.

Commercial Backup Battery Disadvantages

  • Commercial backup batteries can overheat when overcharged, so they need a battery management system (BMS) to regulate charging and discharging.
  • Backup batteries need a separate power source: they must be charged using the main power grid or another power source.
  • Limited storage life: Backup batteries slowly drain energy even when they’re not in use, so they must be recharged or replaced.

Gas-Powered Generator Disadvantages

  • Gas-powered generators run on fossil fuels like diesel or natural gas, so these are depletable energy sources.
  • All gas-powered generators have emissions that are harmful to health and the environment, including natural gas generators.
  • Gas-powered generators may be less expensive than alternatives upfront, but generators require fuel which adds up over time.

Benefits Unique to Microgrids

Microgrids supplies independent energy even when the main power grid is working. This provides more savings than backup power because you’re saving on energy costs all the time. Microgrid design allows your business to utilize multiple energy sources to meet your goals.

Microgrids can use a combination of the following energy sources:

  • Batteries
  • Solar Panels
  • Wind Turbines
  • Generators
  • Combined heat and power (CHP)
  • Geothermal energy
  • Solar heat energy

Batteries, solar panels, combined heat and power, and wind turbines are the most common power sources used in California microgrids. 

Challenges of Microgrids

Microgrids have challenges despite the many benefits they offer. The largest challenge is the upfront cost to design and install a commercial microgrid. However, there are significant energy cost savings once the microgrid is working.

Some additional challenges of microgrids include the following:

Which Is Better, Backup Power or Microgrids?

Microgrids are better than backup power alone because microgrids can help your business save more on energy costs. Microgrids also have more flexibility for power sources, including renewable, clean energy to be environmentally-friendly. Most backup power sources rely on fossil fuels.

If you would like more information about microgrids for your business or industry, contact Access Electric online or call (209)-577-1491 during regular business hours. Access Electric provides commercial  and industrial microgrid services to California in Fresno, Modesto, Stockton, and the surrounding areas.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between microgrids and power grids?

Power grid typically means the municipal power grid that supplies electricity to an entire community, but a microgrid is an electrical supply for a particular building or complex. Microgrids are capable of relying more on clean, renewable energy than the traditional power grid.

Does a generator make a microgrid?

Generators may help supply energy for a microgrid. A backup generator alone is not considered a microgrid since it only supplies electricity with the main powergrid fails, and traditional microgrids further reduce dependency on the power grid by supplying energy for regular use.

Are solar panels a microgrid?

Solar panels may be a part of a microgrid that allows a home or business energy independence. Usually a solar-powered microgrid also contains a battery to store electricity for times when the sun is not shining to generate on-demand electricity.