Proponents of a less-centralized electric system envision a future in which residents, businesses and municipalities own and operate solar panels augmented with batteries and other generators joined together in so-called microgrids.

So what exactly is a microgrid?

It’s a self-contained electric system that can seamlessly connect and disconnect from the main power grid, said Bob Lasseter, the UW-Madison professor who coined the term in the early 2000s.

Lasseter helped pioneer the technology after seeing a small natural-gas-powered generator be outfitted with a system to capture heat given off by its engine. Instead of going to waste, the energy could be used to heat and cool a building.

By moving generators closer to where electricity is needed, Lasseter realized, designers can eliminate a lot of the waste now generated in the current system made up of remote power plants connected by long wires.

“I got really intrigued and started realizing that small energy sources … are actually going to have an impact,” he said.

Microgrid technology is expected to play a big role in attempts to increase the use of solar electricity and make the grid stabler, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. Read the full story here.