As of 4Q 2013 a total of 4,148 MW of microgrid capacity has been identified throughout the world, up from 3,793 MW in 2Q 2013, according to Navigant Research in its latest Microgrid Deployment Tracker.

Of this, North America, still the world’s leading market for microgrids, accounts for 2,712 MW, or 65% of the global microgrid capacity. 1,503 MW is currently online and 1,224 MW is in the planned/under development or proposed phase.

Of the remainder, Europe accounts for 523 MW (13%), Asia-Pacific for 474 MW (11%) and the rest of the world for the balance of 439 MW (11%).

According to the Tracker, most microgrids in operation today are essentially retrofit projects that cobble together existing assets and derive revenue from an overlay of controls used to enable legacy technology (consisting of the majority of the assets within the microgrid) to talk to new technology (usually small amounts of solar PV or a new advanced energy storage unit).

However, today microgrids are beginning to move more into the mainstream, with a greater focus being placed on viable business models. The result is a microgrid market that is much more robust than it was only 5 years ago. New vendors keep entering this space and previously undiscovered projects keep coming to the fore.

Navigant Research notes that a clear definition of what is and what is not a microgrid is still open to debate. The only government agency to define a microgrid is the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which identifies a microgrid as: “A group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources (DER) within clearly defined electrical boundaries that act 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 grid-connected and island-mode.”

Navigant Research has broadened this definition to include remote systems in its analysis. Remote microgrids are networks that are not typically interconnected with any utility grid or may interconnect with a highly unreliable grid; therefore, they operate in island mode for a majority of the time. It was these remote, off-grid systems that were first called microgrids decades ago.