Russia doesn’t know it, but it just made a strong case for local energy

April 27, 2022
Russia appears to be using energy as a weapon of war by cutting off natural gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria. It also inadvertently made the case for local energy and microgrids.

The worldwide headline today is that Russia is cutting natural gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria unless they pay in rubles, making energy, in essence, a weapon of war. European leaders described Russia’s move as blackmail to undercut their support of Ukraine.

Russia’s actions make real the longtime worry that European countries are too reliant on Russia for energy to heat their homes and run their businesses.

It also underscores the value of microgrids, solar, energy storage and other forms of local energy — energy that is under the control of a local community, government, business or even household — and not a distant source that can advertently cut off supply as Russia did, or inadvertently as thousands of trees do regularly when they tumble onto wires causing power outages, sometimes hundreds of miles away.

Anytime we see the interruption of a centrally supplied commodity, especially energy, it reminds us that true, deep resilience is provisioned somewhere between the front door and the end of the block,” Tom Poteet, vice president of corporate development at Mesa Solutions, told Microgrid Knowledge this morning after the news broke about Russian gas supplies to Europe.

“It’s good to improve the overall reliability of a large system, but that doesn’t provide resilience during a system failure or a nearby branch failure,” he added.

Can’t take the sun hostage

Russia’s action also makes a case for renewable energy. Put succinctly on Twitter today by Jon Powers, co-founder of CleanCapital and former White House federal chief sustainability office: “No dictator can hold the sun hostage to blackmail other countries.”

Michael Bakas, executive vice president at Ameresco, sees Russia’s actions as “a wake-up call to all, not just the US, for the need of energy independence.”

But it also underscores a conundrum: How do we achieve energy security/independence in a sustainable way? Bakas sees renewable natural gas (RNG) as an answer, an idea that he traces back to President George W. Bush’s push to strengthen American security “by leveraging domestically produced fuels while taking constructive steps to confront climate change.” 

“In 2005, the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) was created, which amended the Clean Air Act (CAA). Under this act, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program was created. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) further amended the CAA by expanding the RFS program. The RFS program is a national policy that requires a certain volume of renewable fuel to replace or reduce the quantity of petroleum-based transportation fuel, heating oil or jet fuel,” Bakas said in an email.  

“True, deep resilience is provisioned somewhere between the front door and the end of the block.” — Tom Poteet, Mesa Solutions

“RNG uniquely takes a product that is negatively impacting the environment — waste — and creates a clean, domestically produced and reliable energy resource that is fully compatible with our current infrastructure and appliances — serving a productive role in the clean energy transition,” he said.

Bakas described RNG as “one essential piece of the puzzle.”

“It is crucial to maintain a diverse portfolio of solutions that work together to combat climate change. RNG is a complement to other renewable energy sources because it is storable, dispatchable and can be combined with other fuel, heat and power generation resources, providing reliable energy in a more sustainable and circular economy while providing energy security,” Bakas said.

Anyone who has been around the energy industry for any length of time knows it’s a slow ship to turn. While clean energy is understood, local energy remains new or even unknown to most. What’s happening in Europe shows us that it’s time to bring all hands on deck to more quickly turn the ship.

Join us for a discussion on “Megatrends and Microgrids: Macro Economic Influences on the Microgrid Market” at Microgrid 2022, the largest worldwide microgrid gathering, June 1-2 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

Twitter: @ElisaWood

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