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INTRODUCTION TO MICROGRIDS
Ernie Hayden CISSP CEH
Executive Consultant

ernie.hayden@securicon.com

Securicon combines an experienced, knowledgeable technical staff with sound, tested security methodologies and
comprehensive security solution strategies and an ability to balance information security needs with business,
operational and other functional requirements within the critical infrastructure
The depth and breadth of our experience allows us to provide a comprehensive real-world approach that few
companies can match. Our security architecture designs and policies benefit from experience gained from hundreds
of penetration testing, vulnerability assessment and incident response engagements meaning that our findings and
recommendations are based on demonstrated facts, not theory. In addition, when standard strategies are not
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approaches and best practice solutions.
In addition to network and system cyber security experience, Securicon engineers have specific in-depth expertise in
many industry sectors characterized by critical infrastructure environments, including:

UTILITIES POWER, TRANSMISSION, DISTRIBUTION & WATER


ENERGY -OIL, GAS, WIND, & SOLAR
TRANSPORTATION - AIRPORTS/SEAPORTS
PROCESS CONTROL INDUSTRIAL CONTROL SYSTEMS
FINANCIAL SERVICES
CORPORATE ENTERPRISES
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
MILITARY

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Introduction
For many years I have been focused on the electric grid and such issues as reliability, smart grid
improvements, and improvements to the electric grids efficiency. One of the technical approaches
actively considered for the grid is the concept of a Microgrid. This paper offers an introduction to this
concept and further examines the benefits of a Microgrid, where Microgrids are being established and a
summary of some contemporary Microgrid examples in action during the recent Super Storm Sandy
event.
In a seminal study sponsored by the International
Society of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
and performed by Zpryme Research and
Consulting, a majority of 460 survey respondents
noted that Microgrids are going to be an important
technology for increasing smart grid deployment
(Please see Figure 1). These respondents also
indicated that Microgrids will be important to
meeting local electricity demands, enhancing grid
reliability and ensuring local control of electric
supply.
Hence, Microgrids will be an important area of
study when evaluating design and deployment of
the Smart Grid, use and integration of distributed
resources, and building reliability improvements
into the grid.

Figure 1 Power Systems of the Future - IEEE Study

What is a Microgrid?
In the words of Ye, et al in their report Facility Microgrids, Forming a definition for Microgrids has been
a difficult and elusive endeavor. (Ye, et al. 2005) I have personally found this to be the case. During
this research an official definition, per se, has not been identified; however, the U.S. Department of
Energy (DOE) has offered the following description of Microgrids:
A Microgrid, a local energy network, offers integration of distributed energy resources (DER) with
local elastic loads, which can operate in parallel with the grid or in an intentional island mode to
provide a customized level of high reliability and resilience to grid disturbances. This advanced,
integrated distribution system addresses the need for application in locations with electric supply
and/or delivery constraints, in remote sites, and for protection of critical loads and economically
sensitive development. (Myles, et al. 2011)
In another report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) a slightly different definition of a
Microgrid is provided:

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A Microgrid is any small or local electric power system that is independent of the bulk electric
power network. For example, it can be a combined heat and power system based on a natural
gas combustion engine (which cogenerates electricity and hot water or steam from water used
to cool the natural gas turbine), or diesel generators, renewable energy, or fuel cells. A
Microgrid can be used to serve the electricity needs of data centers, colleges, hospitals, factories,
military bases, or entire communities (i.e., village power). (Campbell 2012)
A more succinct definition by the Microgrid Exchange Group 1 is as follows:
A Microgrid is a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly
defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A
Microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both gridconnected or island-mode 2. (Bossart 2012)
Of note, opinions differ about the aggregated generation capacity that should be contained within the
Microgrids power system and whether there should be a single point of common coupling with the
main grid or multiple coupling points. (Ye, et al. 2005) However, for the islanding concept to work
the Microgrid needs to have the ability to be isolated from the main grid either by a single or multiple
disconnection points.
In one article regarding Microgrids and Super Storm Sandy, one facility operator noted that, A true
Microgrid is much more than a backup power system, however, even if it also does that as one of its core
functions. It also has to include real-time, on-site controls to match the Microgrids generation and
storage capacity to power use in real time, as well as have some way to interact with the grid. (St. John
2012)
According to the sources examined for this report the key features of a Microgrid include:

operation in both island mode or grid-connected


presentation to the Macrogrid as a single controlled entity
combination of interconnected loads and co-located power generation sources
provision of varied levels of power quality and reliability for end-uses, and
designed to accommodate total system energy requirements

A simple diagram showing the concept of a Microgrid along with the ability to separate from the main
or Macrogrid at a single point (i.e., go into islanding mode) is shown in Figure 2.

The Microgrid Exchange Group (MEG) was formed under the auspices of the DOE to provide an informational
exchange about Microgrid technology and its implementation. The members are experts and implementers of
Microgrid technologies. (Smith 2011)
2
Emphasis and underlining added by Mr. Bossart in his presentation.

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Figure 2 Elementary Microgrid Architecture

Types of Microgrids
Pike Research has identified five key types of Microgrids or market segments where Microgrids would
best apply (Asmus and Stimmel, Utility Distribution Microgrids 2012). These key Microgrid categories
include the following:

Campus Environment/Institutional Microgrids


o The focus of campus Microgrids is aggregating existing on-site generation with multiple
loads that are co-located in a campus or institutional setting (e.g., industrial park). Pike
Research has observed that the reason why this particular segment has achieved the
greatest traction in the Microgrid market is that a single owner of both generation and
multiple loads all located within a tight geography is easier for the owner to manage and
avoids many of the regulatory obstacles noted in other Microgrid segments.
o Scale ranges from 4 Megawatts (MW) to more than 40 MW

Remote Off-grid Microgrids


o These Microgrids never connect to the Macrogrid and instead operate in an island mode
at all times. Examples of this type of Microgrid includes the remote village power
systems in Alaska or on islands that usually include diesels or wind generation as in

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Nome, Alaska that are interconnected and provide power to the local geography.
BCHydro is working on a project in Bella Coola, British Columbia where an off-grid
Microgrid is being developed with the goal of reducing diesel fuel by integrating solar
photovoltaics (PV), distributed wind, and/or run-of-the river hydropower.
According to Pike Research this category represents the largest number of current
deployments of all Microgrids; however, village power systems represent the lowest
average capacity.

Military Base Microgrids


o These Microgrids are being actively deployed with focus on both physical and cyber
security for military facilities in order to assure reliable power without relying on the
Macrogrid. This segment also includes mobile Military Microgrids for forward operating
bases in such places as Afghanistan.
o The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is actively implementing this approach which is
discussed later.

Commercial and Industrial (C&I) Microgrids


o These types of Microgrids are maturing quickly in North America and Asia Pacific;
however, the lack of well known standards for these types of Microgrids limits them
globally. Therefore they are a type of Microgrid but without clear characteristics.

Community/Utility Microgrids
o Europe leads this segment; however, these deployments do not meet the classic
definition of a Microgrid because they do not island.

Where are Microgrids?


As of 2009, universities and petrochemical facilities
comprise most of the capacity in Microgrids with
military facilities running a distant third. (U.S.
Department of Energy 2009) According to the
Zpryme/IEEE report the top three industries most
likely to deploy Microgrids over the next five years are
healthcare/hospitals, government (military and nonmilitary), and utilities. (Please see Figure 3)
Europe leads the world in adapting and utilizing
distributed generation and Microgrids and it is also
anticipated that Europe will be the global region
expected to see the most growth in Microgrids over
the next five years. (Zpryme Analysis and Consulting
Figure 3 Zpryme/IEEE Study

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2012)
Other areas expected to see growth in Microgrid deployments are rapidly growing countries and rural
communities in order to meet regional electricity needs. The developing world will not be able to
sustain their economic growth if they try to build centralized electrical systems and grids such as in the
U.S. or Europe. (Zpryme Analysis and Consulting 2012) Following the major power outage in India this
past July 2012, some analysts suggested that Microgrids may be a solution for India because businesses
simply cannot count on the grid and without a reliable source of electricity they have difficulty
expanding their enterprises. (Bullis, How Power Outages in India May One Day Be Avoided 2012)
As noted above, the U.S. DOD has been the leader in Microgrid deployment for the past few years
because of the concern that a military facility relies heavily on local utility power which may not be
adequately reliable. The $30M program they are implementing is called SPIDERS (Smart Power
Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security). A key element of the SPIDERS
program is to connect clean energy sources like solar and wind to a Microgrid that functions when
commercial power to the military base is interrupted. The new system is expected to not only make the
militarys power more reliable, it will also lessen the need for diesel fuel and reduce its carbon footprint.
The first SPIDERS pilot is at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam in Honolulu which takes advantage of several
renewable power options already in place including a 146 kW photovoltaic solar power system and up
to 50 kW of wind power. (Hessman 2012) Another DOD Microgrid project is expected to start at Fort
Carson, Colorado in 2013.
It is anticipated that future Microgrids will be deployed as part of Microgrid Industrial Parks. (U.S.
Department of Energy 2009)

Why are Microgrids Needed? What are the Drivers?


Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory statistics show that 80% to 90% of all grid failures begin at the
distribution level of electricity service. (Asmus and Stimmel, Utility Distribution Microgrids 2012) A
recent study conducted for the US DOE estimated that sustained power interruptions (over 5 minutes)
cost the US over $26 billion annually. (Cagle 2012) Microgrid advocates contend that reliability and
power quality can be dramatically improved at the local distribution level through systematic application
of Microgrid technologies.
In the Zpryme/IEEE study the top three benefits of Microgrids include: meet local demand (49% of
respondents), enhance grid reliability (36%), and ensure local control of supply (30%). Lower frequency
responses included enhancing supply reliability, reducing energy cost and enhancing grid security.
(Zpryme Analysis and Consulting 2012)
Pike Research also views the Microgrid as a foundational building block in the ultimate smart grid
because the Microgrid provides reliability and integration of distributed energy resources (DER) and
energy storage assets through improved system intelligence. (Asmus and Stimmel, Utility Distribution
Microgrids 2012) One view expressed is that the Microgrid is a bottoms-up solution platform whereby
the smart super grids represent a top-down approach.
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A driver for Microgrids is to reduce the physical vulnerabilities of the electric grid to terrorist attack and
natural disasters. According to the report Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System, Microgrids
and expanded use of distributed resources would help limit cascading failures and leave islands of
power within a blacked-out region. (Morgan, et al. 2007)

Microgrid-enabling Technologies
The key capability and feature of a Microgrid is its ability to island itself (i.e., separate and isolate itself)
from a utilitys distribution system during brownouts and blackouts. (Asmus and Stimmel, Utility
Distribution Microgrids 2012) However, in order to have an operational Microgrid that can perform in
the manner expected both online and islanded requires use of the following technologies:

Distributed Generation (DG)


Islanding and Bi-Directional Inverters
Smart Meters
Distribution Automation (DA)

Substation Automation
Microgrid Control Systems
Smart Transfer Switches
Advanced Energy Storage

The study performed by Zpryme and IEEE noted that the enabling technologies that were most
important to the success of Microgrid deployments were: energy management systems, distribution
management systems, communications technologies and sensors.

Pros and Cons of Microgrids


From the electric grids perspective, the primary advantage of a Microgrid is that it can operate as a
single collective load within the power system. Customers benefit from the quality of power produced
and the enhanced reliability versus relying solely on the grid for power. Distributed power production
using smaller generating systems such as small-scale combined heat and power (CHP), small-scale
renewable energy resources can yield energy efficiency and therefore environmental advantages over
large, central generation. (U.S. Department of Energy 2009)
The Microgrid concept also reflects a new way of thinking about designing and building smart grids.
Specifically, the Microgrid concept focuses on creating a design and plan for local power delivery that
meets exact needs of the constituents being served. The Microgrids efficiently and economically
integrate customers and buildings with electricity distribution and generation and energy distribution
such as heat again at a local level.
The Microgrids also enhance power reliability for the users due to redundant distribution, smart
switches, intelligence and automation, local power generation and the ability to island the Microgrid
from the Macrogrid. Hence, blackouts and power disturbances are either eliminated or substantially
minimized.
Economically the Microgrids improved reliability can significantly reduce costs incurred by consumers
and businesses due to power outages, brownouts, and poor power quality. According to the Galvin
Electricity Initiative consumers and businesses incur at least $150B annually due to power outages that

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can be reduced by Microgrids. (Galvin Electricity Initiative 2010) When comparing Galvins financial
citation to the US DOEs, the range of savings is between $26B and $150B which indicates that
Microgrids can offer large financial savings with substantial room for interpretation.
Microgrids can also generate revenue for constituent consumers and businesses by selling the Microgrid
power back to the grid/utility when not islanded. The ancillary services they can sell could include
demand response, real-time price response, day-ahead price response, voltage support, capacity
support and spinning reserve, etc. Also, the Microgrids can set the stage for added consumer revenues
from plug-in electric vehicles and carbon credits. (Galvin Electricity Initiative 2010)
Microgrids and the connected local generation and waste heat can displace coal-fired generation and
thus reuse the heat produced during electricity generation from gas-fired combustion turbines or diesel
generators to heat buildings, make hot water, sterilize hospital equipment, etc. As noted in the Galvin
brochure smart Microgrids also make it possible to get the most from clean, renewable energy
connected to the Microgrid because the Microgrids have the flexibility needed to use a wider range of
energy sources such as wind, solar, fuel cells, etc. (Galvin Electricity Initiative 2010)

This bottom-up consumer approach can reduce reliance on fossil fuels and lower greenhouse
gas emissions based on open-market economic value. (Cagle 2012)
Due to the infancy of the enabling technologies required to implement the Microgrids there are
some disadvantages or Cons to their deployment. For instance there are technology
challenges that limit near-term economies of scale for the Microgrids. Also, energy storage
options and capabilities are a very weak link in the success of Microgrid operations.
Asmus notes that due to the infancy of the Microgrid concept and deployment there is limited
information on the true total cost of operation for Microgrids and the associated payback
periods. Asmus also notes that the business case for Microgrid deployment is difficult since
they can be of different sizes, varying geographic footprints and involve so many different types
of devices. (Asmus and Stimmel, Utility Distribution Microgrids 2012)
The 2011 MIT study The Future of the Electric Grid observed that Microgrid research and
development is still in the early stages. Of the 160 active Microgrid projects encompassing 1.2
gigawatts (GW) of installed distributed generation they analyzed, the majority have been
demonstrations and research pilots. Hence, current Microgrids are viewed as expensive
because they require newly developed advanced power electronics and sophisticated
coordination among different customers or areas that are still in their infancy. Even the MIT
study stated:
It is our sense that in most situations, the cost of configuring an area as a Microgrid
does not justify the reliability benefits, which may be achieved through other means,
such as backup generators. Despite the challenges, Microgrids have the potential to
bring new control flexibility to the distribution system and thus will continue to receive
much academic interest. (Kassakian, et al. 2011)
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What About Security?3


As with the rollout of the Smart Grid technologies the past five to seven years the emphasis has been on
speed to market rather than secure speed to market. Hence, issues such as physical and cyber
security of the Microgrids need to be addressed. It is important to recognize that Microgrids include
industrial controls for the circuit breaker protection as well as operation and these control systems
need to be protected from both cyber and physical attack.
Security issues to include in your Microgrid roll out plans include:

Physical Security ensure the circuit breakers and controls are protected from physical
tampering.

Cyber Security ensure Cybersecurity controls are designed into your Microgrid control
systems. Take advantage of the Sandia Labs Microgrid Cyber Security Reference Architecture 4
for your design considerations.

Classic Security Dont forget to include classic security controls such as access management,
instrumentation and control diagram classification and personnel background checks as part of
your holistic Microgrid security program.

An initial step in all Microgrid rollouts is to include a security assessment of the Microgrid design as well
as actual deployment by trusted, experienced and independent security professionals such as those
employed by Securicon.

Final Thoughts Post Sandy


The timing of this paper coincides with the collection of lessons learned following Super Storm Sandy
(SSS). In many instances the news articles raise awareness of the increasing use and application of
Microgrids in order to essentially stop power outages from the get go. (LaMonica 2012) Below are a
few example cases collected to show how Microgrids helped organizations and institutions following the
massive power outages caused by the storm:

3
4

Federal Drug Administration (FDA) White Oak Research Facility, Maryland


o During SSS the local grid failed and the campus facility switched entirely over to its onsite natural gas turbines and engines to power all the FDA buildings on campus for two
and a half days. (LaMonica 2012)

Princeton University, Princeton, NJ


o Princeton University usually gets power from Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) and
an on-site cogeneration facility that supplies electricity and steam for campus-wide

Please see my article in Jesse Bersts Smart Grid News regarding Microgrid Security: http://tinyurl.com/kf9j7ak
http://prod.sandia.gov/techlib/access-control.cgi/2013/135472.pdf

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heating. During SSS, Princeton University was able to island itself from the Macrogrid
with about 11 MW of local generation for three days. 5

New York University (NYU), Manhattan, New York City, NY


o NYU installed a natural gas-fired cogeneration facility in 2010 primarily to save money
on energy and to reduce the Universitys carbon footprint with a side benefit of
reliability. During SSS, NYU islanded itself and using its own cogeneration facility most
of the University campus had power and heat.

On the legislative front, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut released a statement regarding his
testimony to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Hurricane Sandy and its effect
on Connecticut. Blumenthals testimony addressed the need for improved communication between
utilities and local authorities, as well as investment in Microgrids to better protect against widespread
blackouts. (Office of Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) 2012)

Conclusion
The term Microgrid is becoming more commonplace in todays power engineering architecture
vernacular. It is still a concept that is in its infancy but has huge potential for specialized facilities and
geographic footprints like petrochemical plants, university campuses, industrial parks requiring reliable
power quality, and military bases requiring secure supplies of power. As this summary introduction has
demonstrated there still needs to be some standardization is what a Microgrid constitutes although it
is generally accepted that the ability to island and operate off the Macrogrid is an operational
foundation. Overall, though, the Microgrid appears to be an opportunity for continued study, expanded
pilots and demonstration projects and ultimately to more common deployment perhaps in response
to Sandy and other natural disasters.

About the Author


Ernest N. Ernie Hayden, CISSP, CEH, is a highly experienced information security professional and
technology executive, providing global thought leadership in the areas of information security,
cybercrime/cyberwarfare, business continuity/disaster recovery planning, leadership, management and
research. He has also been a technical executive focused on energy and utility issues for over 35 years.
Based in Seattle, Hayden holds the title of Executive Consultant at Securicon, LLC, devoting much of his
time to energy, utility, critical infrastructure, industrial controls, and smart grid security on a global
basis. Prior to his current position at Securicon, Hayden held roles as a managing principal for critical
infrastructure security at Verizon, and was an information security officer/manager at the Port of
Seattle, Group Health Cooperative (Seattle), Seattle City Light and Alstom ESCA. Submit questions or
comments to Ernie Hayden via email at ernie.hayden@securicon.com and you can view his blog on
infrastructure security at http://infrastructuresecuritytoday.blogspot.com/
5

For an interesting news video on the Princeton University cogeneration plants response to SSS please see
http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/section/sandy/.

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