A 2015 National Geographic article with the most remarkable photographs: Germany Could Be a Model for How We’ll Get Power in the Future … led to the ISLR article written earlier this month.
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ISLR) informs readers that its mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support environmentally sound and equitable community development. To this end, ILSR works with citizens, activists, policymakers and entrepreneurs to design systems, policies and enterprises that meet local or regional needs; to maximize human, material, natural and financial resources; and to ensure that the benefits of these systems and resources accrue to all local citizens.
Instead of expanding or connecting to the national energy grid, some companies, municipalities, and individuals are creating miniature grids of their own that can operate independently – “microgrids” – providing options for groups that want lower energy bills, more control over where their energy comes from, or a level of reliability that the grid cannot provide.
The costs are high and they are economically viable for only a limited set of situations. As Karlee Weinmann, ISLR Energy Democracy Initiative Research Associate pointed out, however, the cost of new technology invariably falls as it is adopted: “The cost of materials, installation, and maintenance for the components that make up a microgrid are going down, so the value proposition for a microgrid increases in turn. The general viability of microgrid projects is also reinforced through replication, like anything else, so the more that various stakeholders test the technology, prove its value, and improve upon it, the easier it is to justify buying in . . . As we see it, the future of the grid will be far more decentralized than the system we have now. Rather than paying a far off utility for electricity, which in many cases comes from problematic, dirty sources, customers’ money can stay closer to home.”
Hurricane Sandy, which cut power to 8.5 million people, one million of whom went without power for a week, was cited by the ILSR report Mighty Microgrids as one of the key motivators of regional investment in microgrids. While up to 60% of backup diesel generators failed in medical centers and other essential facilities, Princeton University’s 20 MW microgrid kept the campus operational in island mode for three days while a connection to the grid was being restored.…
Regulations governing interconnection processes can also hinder microgrid adoption, particularly because these regulations vary from state to state. Opposition from utility companies is often a factor that makes the regulatory environment hostile or resistant to positive change. In an ideal world, a national standard would be adopted.
Richardson concludes: “Perhaps in the future, microgrids will be a common feature of communities . . . connected by the larger grid and selling electricity to each other as necessary. For now, they represent a useful tool for businesses and communities that need reliability that the grid can’t offer or that can leverage scale to reduce energy costs”.