Microgrids May Be A Shareable Solution to Energy Ownership
By: Emma Green, USGCC Multimedia Adviser
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As a result of a recent merger between Exelon and Pepco, two major energy companies, Exelon promised to build four microgrids over the next five years in Washington, D.C.
Microgrids, or shared solar energy networks, are sweeping the nation but are most prevalent now in the Northeast.
However, the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia overturned the decision, stating that utility companies cannot own “both generation and distribution” of electricity, according to an opinion and order in late February.
Grid modernization is one of the top priorities on the PSC’s agenda for their upcoming energy workshop on April 27. Regulation, sale and changes in the grid’s structure will all be discussed.
“We are going to see these (questions) of microgrid ownership coming up,” said Rachel Gold, a senior associate at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a sustainable energy nonprofit. “It is going to more likely (be) in places where the business model of the utility is at risk.”
Alternative revenue streams for energy companies will be another big consideration, she said.
Microgrids can be tricky to grasp, hence all the discussion about how to use the relatively new technology and make it profitable.
They work like this – while your business is harnessing energy from the sun, it would also be sharing it with a neighboring building, similar to a peer-to-peer network.
Say your building’s roof is more shaded than another’s down the block. Microgrids enable you to equally energize your place of work in the network and to avoid the long distance that energy usually has to travel to get to you, making the local energy more cost-effective.
While the solar energy system is hooked up to the main electricity grid in any given city, it can run without it, even disconnecting from it during storms to protect its users from power outages.
The co-founder of SolarCity, Peter Rive, said in a New York Times interview that the microgrid is “a template that can be scaled up to basically be the next-generation grid.”
It would more efficiently manage and distribute utilities from the central utility grid, Rive said.
Some states, especially those in the North East, are encouraging businesses to use decentralized energy sources. Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York have invested a combined $88 million on microgrids; California already granted $26.5 million towards its microgrid projects; and “New Jersey is building the first microgrid for a transit system,” according to the Sustainable Business website.
This movement towards shared energy systems is also a boon to hospitals and the military, which depend on constant and reliable energy. Microgrids are currently operational at 20 military bases.
Backed by state dollars and galvanizing energy providers to take up lawsuits against solar energy detractors, microgrids are clearly the latest trend in sustainable energy for businesses.