Elevating Lives Through Electricity: The 2024 Microgrid Knowledge Greater Good Award Winners

April 24, 2024
Electricity is more than a science lesson or a tool of comfort; this flow of electrons serve as a hand up to a better world for many, putting into action a “greater good” that ultimately benefits all. 

At least a generation before electricity was utilized to its truly transformational potential, the legendary American social critic Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay, “Nature,” in which he marveled at the physical phenomena capable of changing not only lives but conditions of comfort and stability forevermore.

“Without electricity, the air would rot,” Emerson opined at least 180 years ago.

The 19th century master of the concept of self-reliance knew many things, some of which were not always obvious. For sure, the charged matter coursing along wires is only occasionally visible, but its impact on making life better is obvious both in its presence and absence.

Despite all of the economic and social revolutions that electric power has fueled–making elevators, home appliances and rock music possible–often its global benefits have eluded many who might need it most. In the jungles, hills and villages of the third world, even sometimes in the streets of a one-time flourishing neighborhood, the power to deliver equitability on the backs of electrons is still missing.

If we’ve learned anything since the successful experiments of Michael Faraday, himself a contemporary of Emerson, it’s that electricity is more than a science lesson or a tool of comfort; this flow of electrons serve as a hand up to a better world for many, putting into action a “greater good” that ultimately benefits all. 

To that end, six years ago Microgrid Knowledge started the Greater Good Awards to honor microgrid projects that are built to serve societal needs and improve the human condition.

This year, Microgrid Knowledge honors four worthy projects as Greater Good Award winners. The recipients were revealed this morning, Wednesday , April 24, at the closing of the Microgrid Conference in Baltimore at the Marriott Waterfront.

Winning projects were named in four Greater Good categories: Local, Grid-Connected, Remote and Highest Recognition. Judges included Endeavor Business Media staff alongside outside judges Patrice Calise, editor for S&P Global, and Kelly Swan, a longtime energy industry consultant and founder of Filling the Void, a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based nonprofit that provides the homeless with meals and supplies.

Here are the 2024 Microgrid Knowledge Greater Good Award Winners:

Local Project (Conference Host City) Greater Good Award Winner: Bette Carol Thompson Scotland Neighborhood Recreation Center, Montgomery County, Maryland

This solar plus battery storage, building-scale microgrid enables the recreation center to be a resiliency hub for the historically black Scotland neighborhood in Potomac, Maryland.

The Thompson-Scotland Recreation Center is a hub for many community projects and events in the neighborhood. The Scotland neighborhood was founded by former African American slaves nearly 150 years ago.

The Maryland Energy Administration was project leader for the microgrid project.

Remote Microgrid Greater Good Award Winner: CORTEPAZ-Colombia Cocoa Cooperative

Thousands of miles from Maryland in the agricultural hotbed of Colombia, cacao bean farming is the economic lifeblood for many families.

CORTEPAZ, a farming cooperative with more than 300 participating families, faced constant obstacles such as high humidity, high levels of poverty and an unreliable grid in unforgiving terrain.

Power failures led to outages impacting driers and regular spoilage of thousands of pounds of cocoa powder derived from the bean, negatively impacting the incomes of family farmers that have little room for error.

The local cooperative invited project developer Blue Planet Energy to build a microgrid with 17.8-kW of solar, an inverter, chargers and up to 48 kWh of battery storage capacity featuring Blue Ion H-I batteries.

This project eliminated losses, which in turn has improved income and quality of life for local farmers.

Grid-Connected Microgrid Greater Good Award Winner: The Community Center at A.B. Ford Park, Detroit

On the city’s East Side, the A.B. Ford Park was constructed as a resiliency hub, addressing critical community needs during times of climate emergencies such as power outages, heat waves and floods.

American Microgrid Solutions was the project developer with Elevate Energy as fiscal sponsor. The community center, which is used every day, now has backup power and microgrid capabilities with a 70-kW solar array supported by battery and generator systems.

This power resiliency gives residents a secure shelter with electricity-powered heating and cooling, internet access and device charging capabilities.

The Greater Good Award Winner for Microgrid Project of Highest Recognition: The Guatemalan Digital Community Centers Microgrids

This project is a game changer for indigenous Mayan women living in rural areas often without electricity and access to educational tools that could empower them. The Digital Community Centers, developed by New Sun Road, are hubs for digital literacy, entrepreneurship and access to online resources for the Mayan Q’eqchi’, Chuj and Ixil indigenous women in rural Guatemala.

More than 1 million Guatemalans live in isolated communities without access to electricity and the internet. The  microgrids address these challenges by providing digital and financial literacy training, leadership development, solar energy and internet connectivity.

This project  not only promotes gender equality in the region but also aligns with efforts to “combat the root causes of irregular migration by fostering economic opportunities and safety for women,” according to the project description by New Sun Road.

About the Author

Rod Walton, Managing Editor | Managing Editor

For Microgrid Knowledge editorial inquiries, please contact Managing Editor Rod Walton at [email protected].

I’ve spent the last 15 years covering the energy industry as a newspaper and trade journalist. I was an energy writer and business editor at the Tulsa World before moving to business-to-business media at PennWell Publishing, which later became Clarion Events, where I covered the electric power industry. I joined Endeavor Business Media in November 2021 to help launch EnergyTech, one of the company’s newest media brands. I joined Microgrid Knowledge in July 2023. 

I earned my Bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. My career stops include the Moore American, Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, Wagoner Tribune and Tulsa World, all in Oklahoma . I have been married to Laura for the past 33-plus years and we have four children and one adorable granddaughter. We want the energy transition to make their lives better in the future. 

Microgrid Knowledge and EnergyTech are focused on the mission critical and large-scale energy users and their sustainability and resiliency goals. These include the commercial and industrial sectors, as well as the military, universities, data centers and microgrids. The C&I sectors together account for close to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Many large-scale energy users such as Fortune 500 companies, and mission-critical users such as military bases, universities, healthcare facilities, public safety and data centers, shifting their energy priorities to reach net-zero carbon goals within the coming decades. These include plans for renewable energy power purchase agreements, but also on-site resiliency projects such as microgrids, combined heat and power, rooftop solar, energy storage, digitalization and building efficiency upgrades.

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