Government policy and energy markets are inextricably intertwined in the United States. Policy and regulation drive (or hamper) growth in energy markets. At the same time, energy technologies increasingly shape climate and infrastructure planning in cities, states and the nation. For these reasons, it’s significant that a dozen leading microgrid companies today joined together to form Think Microgrid, a new coalition that will help educate government officials about microgrids and encourage pro-microgrid policy in key jurisdictions.
The coalition was announced on the final day of Microgrid 2021, a four-week virtual conference hosted by Microgrid Knowledge, which attracted more than 4,000 participants.
“Microgrids are an essential technology in an era of wildfires, severe freezes, hurricanes, derechos and other climate disruptions that increasingly demonstrate the vulnerability of our electric grid,” said Cameron Brooks, executive director of Think Microgrid. “Most states, however, have not determined how microgrids will be incorporated into the physical grid and the market design. Meanwhile, Congress is beginning to define the role of microgrids in infrastructure improvements and climate policy.”
“Think Microgrid intends to help drive these efforts forward, leveraging the deep knowledge and experience of our founding companies,” Brooks said.
The founding members are Ameresco, Bloom Energy, CleanSpark, Compass Energy, Concord Engineering Group, DCO Energy, Eaton, Enchanted Rock, HOMER Energy by UL, PowerSecure, PXiSE Energy Solutions and Schneider Electric.
Why Think Microgrid
In citing their reasons for forming the coalition, the founding members noted the need for energy that is more resilient, reliable, cost effective and sustainable.
“Microgrids can protect critical infrastructure, reduce emissions and prepare communities for climate induced severe weather. Bloom Energy is proud to support the Think Microgrid initiative after powering our customers through 335 outages in 2020 alone,” said Charles Fox, vice president of policy at Bloom Energy.
Allan Schurr, chief commercial officer at Enchanted Rock, a company whose microgrids kept power flowing to many commercial facilities during Texas’ deep freeze in February, said that Think Microgrid will highlight the important role microgrids play in the energy transition “as the most cost-effective way to local and system resiliency and we are excited to be a part of it.”
“Microgrids are increasingly recognized for their ability to provide backup power for critical infrastructure, including defense installations, communities, hospitals and large commercial and industrial facilities, such as water utilities and data centers, and also to provide critical services to the grid when it is unable to meet demand,” Schurr said.
“Our goal is to pave the way for well-defined microgrid policies as a critical component to resiliency, sustainability and cost savings. The time to act is now.” — Mike Bakas, Ameresco
CleanSpark CEO Zach Bradford said that the aging grid “has reached a critical point and microgrids can be a solution to many of the prevailing issues. Our goal is to help facilitate these grid improvements, bring cost savings to customers and stakeholders, while increasing the visibility of clean energy initiatives worldwide.”
“As an early leader in large microgrid development and operation, we are pleased to participate in the Think Microgrid initiative,” said Gary Fromer, CEO of DCO Energy. “We must educate customers, regulators and other stakeholders now on why and how microgrids are essential in enabling energy resilience and sustainability.”
More microgrids mean more renewables
Others pointed out the role microgrids play in helping to integrate renewable energy into the grid and decarbonize energy supplies.
“Microgrids are crucial building blocks to accelerate the adoption of distributed energy resources and utilizing DERs [distributed energy resources] intelligently to meet both local and system needs,” said Patrick Lee, president and CEO of PXiSE Energy Solutions, which offers controller technology that matches the speed and variability of renewable generation.
Lee added that Think Microgrid creates the opportunity for PXiSE “to share our knowledge with regulators and policymakers at this critical juncture in the path toward a greener America, and to encourage legislation and guidelines that pave the way for a clean energy future. PXiSE is proud to work with our Think Microgrid colleagues to give stakeholders the information and tools they need to be leaders and trailblazers in expanding and enhancing the deployment of microgrids.”
Added Peter Lilienthal, HOMER Energy by UL founder and UL global microgrid lead: “Microgrids have proven their value for decades in supplying reliable, cost-effective renewable energy. Now as distributed generation paves the way to a clean and resilient energy future, our policymakers need to be better informed as they set a new energy framework for success.”
Microgrid coalition arrives at key juncture
Several founding members described the need to educate government decision makers about microgrids as the evolution of electric power enters a crucial juncture, with distributed energy changing the way electricity is produced, distributed and consumed.
“There is a new power paradigm at play as the world transitions to a far more sustainable, low-carbon future,” said John Vernacchia, energy transition segment director at Eaton. “Microgrid systems that optimize where, when and how electricity is consumed can help accelerate this change, and we, at Eaton, are excited to join forces with Think Microgrid to advance community commitments and policy initiatives.”
Eric Dupont, chief commercial officer at PowerSecure, which has installed more than 2,000 microgrids, said that “as the industry approaches the intersection of resiliency and the road to net zero, never has there been a more opportune time for a coalition such as Think Microgrid to move forward, redefining the critical role of microgrid infrastructure, at the forefront of public policy, while building the future of energy together.”
An executive committee, capped at 10 voting members, will serve as the primary leadership and decision-making body for Think Microgrid. Cameron Brooks (president, Tolerable Planet and E9 Insight) will serve as executive director. Senior advisors include Kevin Normandeau (publisher, Microgrid Knowledge), Elisa Wood (editor-in-chief, Microgrid Knowledge), Matt Roberts (former executive director, Energy Storage Association), Jonathan Schrag (principal, Taconic Advisory Services), and Tanya Burns (principal consultant, Arara Blue Energy).
Read more about Think Microgrid.