How to Get to 100% Renewables? Use Microgrids Says Plan for Cranston, Rhode Island

Jan. 24, 2020
An ambitious, grassroots project is underway in Cranston, Rhode Island to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030 using microgrids.

The Rhode Island Progressive Democrats have launched an ambitious project that aims to ensure the city of Cranston achieves 100% renewable energy by 2030 using a series of solar and wind microgrids, a central microgrid, a virtual power plant (VPP) and a municipal utility.

The hope is that the Cranston project, led by a group called Ocean State Community Energy (OSCE), will be a model for cities across Rhode Island.

Working with a grassroots coalition, the progessive democrats hired consultants ReVenture and 4E Energy to perform a feasibility study of meeting these goals in Cranston, said Brandon Boucher, CEO of 4E Energy.

Rendering courtesy OSCE

The study found that Cranston — the state’s second most populated city — could become 100% renewable, according to a summary of the feasibility study.

The consultants based the calculation on Cranston’s use of 473,756.77 MWh in 2018. Solar panels and vertical wind turbines on commercial, municipal and residential sites in the city could produce more than 407,472.77 MWh, according to the study, while  a “smart and shareable microgrid/energy storage system” could increase the efficiency of energy transmission by up to 30%, making an additional 142,127 MWh available.

Incorporates offshore wind

“Combined with 5% of the energy from offshore wind projects currently underway, Cranston can add in heating and transportation and become 100% renewable,” said the summary.

Nathan Carpenter, state coordinator for Rhode Island Progessive Democrats, said the group is looking at possibly establishing a green bank to help fund the project.

“We’ll be looking at all avenues to ensure that we find the best option,” he said.

The project would consist of a series of small wind and solar microgrids serving homes and businesses, said Boucher. They would all be connected to a central microgrid and would provide power for a virtual power plant. Residents and businesses would be customers of a municipal utility.

The municipal utility would either work with local utilities to gain access to distribution or acquire some distribution infrastructure, he said.

National Grid, which owns some of the area’s distribution infrastructure, is interested in cooperating on the project, he added.

Separately, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo on January 17 signed an executive order asking the state’s Office of Energy Resources to study how the state can transition to 100% renewables by 2030.

Boucher said he expects the microgrid project to follow its own path and that the group’s studies will likely be completed before the governor’s.

“We will rely on the will of everyday people to make it happen and not rely on government or corporations,” he said.

Creating microgrid model for whole of Rhode Island

After Boucher and his partner completed the feasibility study for Cranston, the progressive democrats hired the pair to do a study for the whole state, which will be officially launched in February.

One of the goals of the project is to stop sending $3 billion a year out of state for power and to create a green jobs industry throughout the state.

“If we keep that $3 billion in the state, what does it look like for growing jobs?” said Boucher. “What we’re looking to do is bring a small wind turbine manufacturer to the state that would create 300 to 500 jobs almost immediately. It would cut down on the cost of the turbines; we wouldn’t have to pay for shipping.”

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Another idea is to provide green energy training and create a new green collar workforce, Boucher said.

He expects the statewide study to be completed by August. It will be funded by a coalition of nonprofit organizations, political action organizations and others interested in addressing climate change and climate justice, he said.

On Feb. 10, OSCE will hold a launch event attended by its partners, which will include technology companies.

The event will offer wind turbine demonstrations and talks focused on how the state could benefit from the green collar economy, he said.

Utility cooperative envisioned

In Cranston, the municipal utility would likely be a cooperative.

“The goal is to have everyone in the municipal utility, it will become a cooperative. Everyone pays in for the energy they are using. At the end of the year, everyone gets a dividend check. We’re not sure how exactly it will look,” he said.

One of the aims of the project is to compensate homeowners and businesses who produce energy for the VPP. They will either be paid or may receive free energy from the municipal utility, said Boucher.

Cost of microgrids

The feasibilty report noted that further study is required on the cost/benefits analysis and potential mechanisms to pay for the plan.

“There is no cookie cutter cost for a smart microgrid, however, Ocean State Community Energy has begun the processes of finding a scalable solution for the entire state, based on this case study of Cranston. While the number and placement of the components will vary from town to town, this proof of concept will show that a smart microgrid can reduce the cost of electricity for everyone,” said the study.

With its ambitious goals and its backers’ hopes for addressing climate change, Boucher says the project will yield important and lasting change.

“The Industrial Revolution began in Rhode Island. Why can’t the green industrial revolution start there as well?” he said.

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

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