August 2017Policy

The Potential Impact of Energy Micro Grids

The energy sector is changing as renewables enter the picture. The traditional model of a utility, buying from distant producers and delivering service across states, is being challenged by local production such as rooftop solar. Micro grids facilitate these changes by balancing renewable power. These grids can operate independently and thus offer redundancy and potentially local control.

This change offers a breakthrough for democracy, as some huge corporate utilities like Virginia's Dominion Energy have smoothed their dominant operations by intervening in elections and choosing their political bosses. This can slow down the transition to renewables by buying leases and not using them and other techniques. As long as there is a robust education system for consumers, there is little reason why a state cannot power itself using networks of micro grids (public and private) and using the utility as a coordinator. Utilities need not be the state's unofficial energy department. Networks of local control provide a striking alternative to the reality of our corporations having so much influence that they run our government and continue to invest in fossil fuels.

Electrical micro grids are characterized by three qualities. They are local, operationally an island, and orchestrated. This means that micro grids are controlled by a programmable network capable of running independently or in association with other micro grids or utilities.

Micro grids come in many sizes from the whole of the University of Texas in Austin to just a house or apartment building. Most often, micro grids cover a company or institution. They could cover a town. In New York state interest in micro grids grew after hurricane Sandy as a way to minimize disaster and speed recovery. The US military uses micro grids and renewables as a way to minimize the chance of casualties by lessening the need for convoys to transport fuel. Micro grid software allows prioritizing environmental needs or the cost of service.

Micro grids must meet the demand for energy peaks during the day and balance the natural cycles of renewables. Micro grids offer a means to shave peak energy and balance cycles using technologies like batteries, energy use programming, utilities inputs, fuel cells, geothermal resources, and others.

There are two types of micro grids, geothermal and electric. Most often geothermal grids are building or site specific while electrical micro grids have broader potentials like linking other networks near and far.

In the future a community or co-op might operate a micro grid getting energy from solar energy, fuel cells, and backed up by a utility or not. Major corporations like GE and Siemens are investing in micro grid technology as well. Renewable energy enthusiasts will be motivated to facilitate solar resources by public, private, or co-op micro grids.

For further information see https://microgridknowledge.com

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