Why it Takes Time to Develop Community Microgrids

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community microgrids

Democracy isn’t speedy. Hence, community microgrids take time.

Community microgrids aren’t exactly a pop-up businesses. But what delays their development is also a key appeal – local control of energy.

That’s one of the points raised in Black & Veatch’s recent snapshot of the electric industry, the “2016 Strategic Directions: Electric Industry Report.”

The report emerged out Black & Veatch’s survey of 672 utility, municipal, commercial and community stakeholders in May and June.

Community microgrids are often the result of public/private partnership, which is a development model favored by more than half of those surveyed.

But democracy isn’t speedy. “Black & Veatch is seeing very long project development cycles for microgrids throughout the United States,” said the report.

Working with public entities means allotting time for a range of stakeholders to have their say. The private side of the partnership checks its watch while the public side ponders.

“Whereas traditional utility projects have involved more limited stakeholder engagement or opportunity for influencing the project structure, location or scope, recent and ongoing microgrid projects under development have included broad coalitions of city leadership, communities, technology partners, utilities and investors,” said the report.

The good news is that this new approach to energy ownership is making community members interested for the first time in arcane energy topics.

“Town hall-style meetings conducted for several projects have elicited high attendance and keen interest from the public. The general public is more informed about and interested in energy policy and the future of the electric system, so it appears that electric consumers will be one of the driving forces for change,” said the Black & Veatch report.

More good news is that the slow pace of development does not seem to be deterring the pursuit of microgrids.

In fact, more than 55 percent of those surveyed said that microgrids and distributed generation are either a viable business model now or will be in the next five years.

And interestingly, it is larger utilities that are most on board with the idea of a distributed energy future.

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Energy Storage in Smart Microgrids
All power systems also require the capability to balance, in real time, differences between load demand and generator output. This balancing capability—which keeps system frequency at the level where it’s designed to operate—is critical to ensure the stability and reliability of the overall power system, for both centralized power grids as well as microgrids. In a centralized grid, fossil-fuel-fired generating plants typically will ramp up or down to ensure demand and generation output remains in balance.
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“This interest will only hasten change in the industry,” said the report. “As large utilities roll out distributed generation programs, the industry will achieve scale and cost will continue to drop.”

The report describes microgrids as a key element of power grid modernization. Their complexity allows them to fulfill three goals increasingly pursued by communities:  low-carbon energy, resiliency and electric reliability. Microgrids do so by managing multiple forms of generation with advanced controllers. This sets microgrids apart from simpler distributed generation projects.

“A system based only on solar and wind generation would be low-carbon but would not deliver resilient or reliable service, because these are both intermittent resources dependent on the sun and wind. To be resilient, dispatchable resources such as energy storage and fossil fueled generation sources are required as part of the system,” said the report. “Seamless integration of multiple generation sources and loads is then at the heart of what makes a system a microgrid.”

The Black & Veatch report is available here.

Read more about community microgrids on MicrogridKnowledge.com.

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Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com and EnergyEfficiencyMarkets.com. She has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.

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