Turns out Democrats and Republicans Agree on Something: Microgrids

March 16, 2020
In an era of bipartisan wrangling, microgrids are one thing US voters agree upon — at least once they understand them, according to a survey by the Civil Society Institute.

In an era of bipartisan wrangling, it turns out microgrids are one thing US voters agree upon — at least once they understand them.

That’s the finding of a survey conducted for the Civil Society Institute, a Massachusetts think tank that works to uncover common ground on education, healthcare, water, energy and other issues.

Last year the institute decided to take a deep look at microgrids after its research into renewable energy indicated that microgrids hold strong universal appeal.

Their polling of 1,000 voters in October, and qualitative discussions with 400 voters, upheld the premise. Democrats, Independents and Republicans overwhelmingly liked the microgrid concept — once it was explained to them.

Initially, the majority of all voters (83%) said they had never heard of the concept (56%), or they had heard of it but had the wrong impression (27%). 

What voters like about microgrids

But after they were given a definition*, the conversation became animated and the audience wanted to learn more, according to pollster Vince Breglio.

“I was amazed at how much people had to say about a concept they had not understood and only had a short paragraph of explanation about,” said Breglio, advisor to US presidents, senators and governors as well as such corporations as Sony, Toyota and Caterpillar. 

So what did they like about microgrid technology?

That’s where ideology did come into play. Democrats tended to see microgrids as a climate solution, as did women, younger voters and Hispanics. Republicans, older voters, and those with higher incomes favored messaging related to protecting electric supply against hacking or terrorism.

The survey also uncovered strong support for community microgrids when they were described as part of grid modernization. 

Courtesy of Civil Society Institute

Modernizing the electrical grid is among three infrastructure projects that voters prioritize, according to the group’s research. Younger voters, in particular, see grid modernization as a way to create a more sustainable electric system — 18-24 years old (61.8%); 25-39 years old (56.5%); all ages (51.9%).

More than half of those surveyed see microgrids leading to use of more renewable energy and less fossil fuels, according to the survey. Democrats most strongly held this view (61%) as did younger, better educated voters.  ‘Solution voters’  also associated microgrids with renewables. (The researchers define solution voters as roughly 38% of voters who, regardless of political affiliation, focus on constructive fixes to problems.

“We try to use research to understand how to achieve goals, staying outside of the zone of controversy. So that’s where we see microgrids. We see them as a way to advance the adoption of renewable energy,” said Andrea Camp, senior project manager at the Civil Society Institute.

The bottom line? With bipartisan support, microgrids represent a coming together to solve a real problem, Breglio said, which is a rare advantage in an age of “climate wars.”

Courtesy Civil Society Institute

Definition of microgrids provided to research participants

*A microgrid is designed to serve an entire community – a neighborhood, a city, a military base, a hospital, or other community of electricity consumers. Microgrids connect various sources of electricity generation such as traditional power plants, solar energy, wind energy and other sources like fuel cells that can operate as part of a network but also independently. Microgrids manage the storage of electricity from renewable sources and the distribution of electricity from all sources to consumers in the most efficient and inexpensive way through the use of computer networks. Ultimately as more communities develop and use microgrids and connect to other near-by communities who also are using microgrid technology, a system of microgrids could replace the existing system of large centralized national/regional electrical grids that cross thousands of miles and many different states.

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.

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