Microgrid Policy: How Should the Industry Proceed in Light of Covid-19?

June 2, 2020
Energy leaders yesterday offered insight into how the microgrid industry can secure its seat at the table as US policymakers attempt to move the nation toward economic recovery. The discussion took place during the opening day of the Microgrid Knowledge Virtual Conference.

Energy leaders yesterday offered insight into how the microgrid industry can secure its place at the table as US policymakers attempt to move the nation toward economic recovery. The discussion took place during the opening day of the Microgrid Knowledge Virtual Conference, a three-day event that has drawn several thousand participants.

“Our goal — our responsibility — coming out of this is to come up with clear advocacy…and articulate that well,” said Joseph Sullivan, vice president energy policy and development at Concord Engineering

Sullivan added that there is likely to be a push for government investment in energy infrastructure. So the microgrid industry needs to use the opportunity to speak in a collective voice to encourage a new way of thinking about electric power delivery, much as Puerto Rico did following Hurricane Marie.

“In Puerto Rico, they decided that they want to have multiple microgrids. They feel that the vulnerability created by a centralized system and a weak transmission distribution system is not where they want to be in the future,” he said. “I think part of what we do next is advocate for investment in distributed technology and distributed infrastructure — in better ways of doing things.”

“People who don’t study history are condemned to repeat the mistakes of history. If we go back to business as usual — we don’t change anything, we just push massive investments into the same technologies, the same way that we’ve always done them — we’re probably not going to be any better prepared for any other events during any other disruptions,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan was joined by Jason Burwen, vice president of policy for the Energy Storage Association and Richard Stuebi, president of Future Energy Advisors, in a session moderated by Matt Roberts, director of strategic development & government affairs at Microgrid Knowledge. The session was titled, “Will COVID-19 Impact Microgrid Policy Progress?”

The panelists provided updates on a range of microgrid policy and regulatory proceedings that may influence microgrid development. They ranged from Hawaii’s microgrid tariff proceeding to California’s push to avert wildfire-related power outages with microgrids. They also discussed federal tax credits and various changes being considered by independent system operators and regional transmission organizations.

Stuebi cited three main issues facing microgrid developers: 

  • A lack of standardized approach to regulating microgrids in the United States
  • Conflicts with preexisting rights on electricity delivery. In certain states, only utilities are allowed to deliver electricity, which makes it difficult to develop microgrids that have multiple users.
  • The lack of a champion to move a microgrid project forward, someone that takes ownership of the project and makes it happen

The panelists also discussed the difficulty regulators have placing a monetary value on energy resilience, one of the most important benefits offered by microgrids.

ESA’s Burwen noted that it’s difficult to develop a microgrid business plan without a model to monetize resilience. But he added that the microgrid industry has a few things going for it when it comes to valuing resilience.

“One is, I’m reminded of the Supreme Court and it’s a trial on obscenity: I know it when I see it. Folks know resilience when they see it. They have some sense of what we’re talking about here in terms of a relationship between a specific type of threat and specific kind of response,” he said.

Burwen also cited a report on the value of resilience released last year by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners that he said helps explain to regulators different ways of valuing resilience. He also pointed to work by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a project underway by the US Department of Energy to create a model for energy sector resilience analysis.

See a free replay of “Microgrids as a Recovery Tool During Social and Economic Disruption.”

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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