Elisa Wood Guest Post: Microgrids

This week, with her kind permission, I am reposting two articles by Elisa Wood. She is an editor at EnergyEfficiencyMarkets.com and has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post. She also writes for Renewable Energy World magazine, Power Engineering International and AOL Energy, and is a correspondent for McGraw-Hill/Platts Energy.

Last May (2013), she interviewed me for an article about adaptive rebuilding in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the Moore, Oklahoma tornado and the increasingly prevalent occurrence of extreme weather events. This week, I am bringing her into my conversation about microgrids.

Microgrids: Coming or No?

Elisa Wood 
May 09, 2013

You know that experience, when you buy a new car, and suddenly you see the model everywhere? Since Superstorm Sandy I’ve had the equivalent experience with the term ‘microgrid.’

Policymakers and thought leaders in the U.S. Northeast started talking microgrid in earnest shortly after the October 2012 storm leveled swaths of their region. Lately, the term seems to arise in almost every interview I do about transmission and reliability — whether about the U.S., Japan, Sweden, India or other areas of the world.

These small, electricity islands have been around for a long time, but mostly confined to colleges and military bases. Are we about to see more widespread development?

Microgrids are smaller versions of the larger grid, but the power plants are closer to the customer. Hence, they have fewer miles of wire that is vulnerable to falling trees. They are typically connected to the larger grid. But when the grid goes down, the microgrid can disengage and keep operating. So microgrids are used as a way to maintain electric reliability in carved-out areas.

I recently asked three respected smart grid experts for their views on a potential microgrid boom, and they gave me three different slants.

“Truthfully, I think microgrid is a very good concept — it has certain applications — but not in general,” said GE’s John McDonald, director of technical strategy and policy development for GE Energy Management’s Digital Energy.

He sees microgrid as successful in rural areas on military bases and at universities. “But you wouldn’t want to have, in the Continental U.S., the grid be composed of thousands of little microgrids. It would be very difficult to manage that,” McDonald said.

Bradley Williams, vice president for industry strategy at Oracle Utilities, has a different view. Information technology can solve problems that inhibit more widespread use of microgrid, he says.

“The military bases and campuses are piloting this, but that is just the beginning,” Williams said.

He envisions communities driving future microgrid development, particularly those with building codes that require solar, wind or other forms of self-generation.

“I do think it is coming: it will not be driven by the utilities,” he said, adding that utilities will get on board once they know microgrids pose no danger to line workers — an information management issue that Oracle is working on.

Meanwhile, Michael Gordon, CEO of Joule Assets, describes the coming microgrid as a bundling of distributed generation and virtual power plants, which can serve utility resource needs.

Microgrid will help alleviate a kind of inefficiency beginning to emerge on the grid as more and more consumers and businesses buy their own generators following each big storm, he said.

“People are installing things that are not cost-effective because they don’t want a one week outage,” said Gordon, whose New York company helps create energy reduction assets.

What’s coming are microgrids made up of consumer-producers who will sell into the various electricity markets, Gordon said. The consumer will finance and build the asset and then sell energy, efficiency or demand reduction. The utility may act as buyer.

It is not only Superstorm Sandy that is spurring talk of microgrid. Discussion heightened about the concept, as well, after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  The Sendai microgrid at Tohoku Fukushi University continued to provide power while the rest of the grid failed, points out a PWC report, “The Future of Microgrids: Their Promise and Challenges.”

Microgrid also is gaining steam because of the Obama administration’s push for more combined heat and power, which is often included within a microgrid. Obama wants the U.S. to build 40 GW of CHP by 2020.

Here are a couple of microgrid developments to watch in the U.S.

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in February announced that it is evaluating 27 microgrid projects for possible funding. The projects were among 36 that sought $15 million in available state grants. Some of the projects are sizable — as large as 10 MW. Governor Dannel Malloy has recommended an additional $30 million for the program over the next two years.

In nearby New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has created an energy highway blueprint to modernize the state’s electric system, which has resulted in several proposals, some of them microgrid.

Many other examples exist of the growing use of microgrids. Readers, please feel free to use the comment section here to let us know about them.

Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal. Click here to see her articles.

The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of RenewableEnergyWorld.com or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.

The blog has been reposted on Climate Change Fork, with the author’s permission; no changes have been made from the original post.

This article is published under a cross licensing agreement with RealEnergy Writers.com. 

Why Insiders are Bullish on Microgrid

March 10, 2014 By

microgrid graphic

Microgrids are coming to the US, but they face some significant roadblocks. What’s driving the sudden upswing in their development? And what’s getting in the way?

A panel of microgrid experts tackled these questions last week at the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) BuildingEnergy 14 conference in Boston.

Ed Krapels, founder of Anbaric Holding, acknowledged that he might appear to be a somewhat unlikely supporter of microgrids. Krapels is a long-time developer of transmission. But even as he continues to develop transmission, he has become bearish on transmission and bullish on microgrids.

“I’ve learned in the last 15 years that building transmission is almost impossible in the Northeast,” he said, pointing to Northeast Utilities’ Northern Pass project, as an example. Fierce opposition from New Hampshire landowners has delayed the line, which is meant to bring 1200 MW of hydroelectricity from Canada into New England.

Once the US figures out the right business model for microgrids, they will “take off in the same way independent development of power plants has taken off,” Krapels said.

Galen Nelson, director of market development at Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said that the biggest barrier to microgrid is not technical or financial but political. The solution lies in “changing the way we think about this business model and moving a lot of powerful players in the right direction,” he said.

Massachusetts regulators have a grid modernization proceeding underway that includes a look at microgrids. The state plans to designate funds and issue a solicitation that is likely to include a microgrid component, he said.

Meanwhile, nearby Connecticut has issued two solicitations already for microgrids, one last week. The state has exhibited “strong political will” to create a regulatory framework that accommodates microgrids, said Genevieve Sherman, senior manager at the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority.

“Utility franchise rights in Connecticut are now essentially erased for municipal microgrids. So if you have a microgrid in Connecticut that is serving what is considered a municipal critical facility, you can string wires wherever you want, and the utility is not allowed to sue you – although that could still be challenged in court,” she said.

That leads to the big elephant in the room. How will utilities react to this new wave of microgrid development? Will they block or embrace it?

Read Part II of this discussion on EnergyEfficiencyMarkets.com. Or have the next part delivered directly to your mailbox by subscribing to Energy Efficiency Markets’ free newsletter.

The blog has been reposted on Climate Change Fork, with the author’s permission; no changes have been made from the original post.

This article is published under a cross licensing agreement with EnergyEfficiencyMarkets.com.

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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