Category Archives: Microgrids

Parallel Multiverses

If you have been caught up in the circus that has become Washington DC since the election, and to some extent, mea culpa, it is refreshing to remind yourself that a lot of exciting and beneficial things are happening elsewhere, that in fact, we live not so much in a universe, but a multiverse. So even with the anti-science miasma currently threatening our country, there is good news to be found about the future of our species.

Of course, you’ve heard of Elon Musk, Tesla and the plans to build colonies on Mars, heck, the man is a multiverse in one body. But much is happening below the radar of popular culture and social media that suggests that many smart people in different fields remain optimistic about the future, and are busy developing ‘workarounds’ to accomplish their goals. In addition to Musk, people like Michael Bloomberg (http://www.npr.org/2017/04/26/525675189/michael-bloomberg-and-carl-pope-on-climate-of-hope) and Paul Hawken (Drawdown: http://www.drawdown.org/)

It seems clear that we have to focus on the issue of energy: how we make it, store it, conserve or waste it, use and abuse it. Without clean, renewable energy solutions, our economy will tank. Even Exxon knows, and has known, that for a fact. What and when, remains to be seen.

Actually, the centrality of energy in human endeavor has always been true, starting with the only energy we had, namely, human energy, aka muscle power. When our reach began to exceed our grasp, some proto-Elon picked up the first rock or stick or bone and used it to pound something (and/or someone, alas) into submission. (At some point, it seems clear that our ancestors began to divide up tasks necessary for survival according to gender, but let’s leave that for now.)

Eventually, it dawned on him or her that this naturally occurring object could be manipulated, possibly improved, in some way to make it more efficient. Probably tool making was a lucky accident like most scientific discoveries (or recoveries), maybe even the making of fire. Recall that amazing scene in Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece, 2001, when the ape suddenly tosses a bone toward the sky. In a blink of cosmic time, we became the only species who could build machines powerful enough to launch us toward the stars. If this sounds as if I’m channeling Neil deGrasse Tyson, guilty!

Let me assume that if you’ve been following Transition Tales for any length of time, you know that I (mostly) want to focus on what is working, or could work, to benefit our society and all of us. The last seven months have been deeply disheartening, and many have been as drawn to dystopian fiction as I have (Hulu’s film based on Margaret Atwood’s masterpiece, The Handmaid’s Tale, comes to mind). Perhaps you have turned to history for an understanding of how we got into this mess, and more importantly, how we get through it. And in the business community founded on settled science, I see a glimmering.

So, if like me, you’re ready to recharge your batteries, I have two suggestions.

  1. Solar power is inevitable and solar co-ops are a way to bring dedicated environmentalists together with folks mostly interested in independent energy choices. (https://transitiontales.wordpress.com/?s=solar+energy) In the Sunshine State, they are long overdue, but forming quickly with many enthusiastic supporters. Take a look at Florida Solar United Neighborhoods (I’m on a steering committee for Palm Beach County’s first co-op launching October 4): http://www.flsun.org/
  2. I suggest you sign up for Green Tech Media, https://www.greentechmedia.com/, and give yourself a crash course in what lies ahead for energy, the who’s who and what’s what. Clear effective communication: podcasts, webinars, white papers and videos, and so far, FREE. You could do worse than read this just released article that calls out Energy Secretary, Rick Perry’s forthcoming report for the BS it is. https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/the-countries-with-the-most-wind-and-solar-have-far-fewer-outages

And if you haven’t had your fill of the Beltway Follies, this mud’s for you: https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/covering-americas-climate-troll-in-chief

For Utilities, Small is Beautiful…Again

microgrid

Click on image to embiggen.

Thanks to Ed Scerbo’s great post on microgrids on Transition Southeast and Deep South, I have my topic for today (although ‘micro,’ as I’m learning, it isn’t.) Relatively cheap electricity makes our society go, so it’s not possible to think about it without considering a number of related factors:  how we use, and abuse, it in our daily lives;  how we respond when power is interrupted — homes, offices, hospitals, schools, etc.– (quite well in the short-term, as stories from famous blackouts show);  and what the future may hold as conventional power sources shrink and renewables keep running into resistance from the, well, powerful. My iPhone 5 now tells me it is not compatible with the solar charger I wrote about so enthusiastically here a couple of weeks ago.  What’s up with that?

In case you need, as did I, a good definition of the microgrid and why we need to pay more attention to this technology, start here (http://whatis.techtarget.com — very useful to decode technical terms of all kinds):

“Any small-scale localized station with its own power resources, generation and loads and definable boundaries qualifies as a microgrid. Microgrids can be intended as back-up power or to bolster the main power grid during periods of heavy demand. Often, microgrids involve multiple energy sources as a way of incorporating renewable power. Other purposes include reducing costs and enhancing reliability…The modular nature of microgrids could make the main grid less susceptible to localized disaster.” (Emphasis mine.)

Localizing is the whole raison d’etre of the Transition movement so it isn’t surprising local power generation is getting a lot of attention in Transition Towns in the U.K.  See this Rough Guide to Community Energy and start your own exploration. The U.S. Military is driving development of microgrids – some 40 bases have their own. In fact, as more municipalities, cities and regions realize the value of decentralized power, the global annual market for microgrid power generation is expected to reach $40B, with North America taking the lead. Last week, the Department of Energy (as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan) launched a competition to award $100,000 to six operational microgrids.  When you consider what is being spent to suppress solar, this doesn’t seem nearly enough money.

As it turns out, Florida is home to a number of utilities that qualify as microgrids, and the trend is surfacing all over the Northeast in the wake of Sandy, including in New York, Connecticut and Maryland (but not so far in my former home state of New Jersey, boo Chris Christie!)   There is a microgrid  in my county of Palm Beach: Lake Worth Utilities.  The rest of the county’s population, some 41 towns and incorporated villages, must rely on Florida Power and Light. We do, however, as I’ve written here before, have some choice or where to source our power while remaining on the FPL grid. Despite some issues with utility rates, local power generation is but one of the eco-assets of Lake Worth that makes it potentially more resilient than many of its neighbors, my town of Palm Beach Gardens included.  I’d love to hear how LWU is working out for you, so Lake Worth residents, weigh in.

One of the best examples of community power generation in Florida is Gainesville Regional Utilities, serving 93,000 customers in Gainesville and environs. Not only does GRU stand out for its emphasis on renewable energy including biomass, solar – the first in the state to offer solar feed-in-tariff program — and landfill gas (that’s methane derived from decomposing organic matter), it does a great job of communicating with its customers on benefits and underlying values. By the end of 2013, Gainesville Regional Utilities drew 21% of its power from renewable sources. Pear Energy, which powers our home and EV, buys energy from GRU. Check out this remarkable company here.

I could go on, and may dig in more deeply in future posts.  In the meantime, let this small sample of an exciting emerging field encourage you to explore it further and give it your support wherever you live.  As we all know, how we make and use energy directly impacts the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (hovering at 400 ppm currently).  Distributed power provides a measure of security as the climate becomes more unstable.  But the microgrid, especially when tapping solar and other renewable resources, is smart energy for the future.  Global warming is a wicked problem.  To quote a buddy of mine: “We need to throw everything we’ve got at it.”

More reading:

Federal Incentives for Renewable Energy (expire December 31, 2016)

Renewable Energy World (much to absorb)

Kill-a-Watt EZ Meters For you DIYers

How Stuff Works – delightful article on microgrids