Why it Takes Time to Develop Community Microgrids

Aug. 25, 2016
Democracy isn’t speedy. Hence, community microgrids take time, as a new Black & Veatch report explains.

Community microgrids aren’t exactly a pop-up businesses. But what delays their development is also a key appeal – local control of energy.

That’s one of the points raised in Black & Veatch’s recent snapshot of the electric industry, the “2016 Strategic Directions: Electric Industry Report.”

The report emerged out Black & Veatch’s survey of 672 utility, municipal, commercial and community stakeholders in May and June.

Community microgrids are often the result of public/private partnership, which is a development model favored by more than half of those surveyed.

But democracy isn’t speedy. “Black & Veatch is seeing very long project development cycles for microgrids throughout the United States,” said the report.

Working with public entities means allotting time for a range of stakeholders to have their say. The private side of the partnership checks its watch while the public side ponders.

“Whereas traditional utility projects have involved more limited stakeholder engagement or opportunity for influencing the project structure, location or scope, recent and ongoing microgrid projects under development have included broad coalitions of city leadership, communities, technology partners, utilities and investors,” said the report.

The good news is that this new approach to energy ownership is making community members interested for the first time in arcane energy topics.

“Town hall-style meetings conducted for several projects have elicited high attendance and keen interest from the public. The general public is more informed about and interested in energy policy and the future of the electric system, so it appears that electric consumers will be one of the driving forces for change,” said the Black & Veatch report.

More good news is that the slow pace of development does not seem to be deterring the pursuit of microgrids.

In fact, more than 55 percent of those surveyed said that microgrids and distributed generation are either a viable business model now or will be in the next five years.

And interestingly, it is larger utilities that are most on board with the idea of a distributed energy future.

“This interest will only hasten change in the industry,” said the report. “As large utilities roll out distributed generation programs, the industry will achieve scale and cost will continue to drop.”

The report describes microgrids as a key element of power grid modernization. Their complexity allows them to fulfill three goals increasingly pursued by communities:  low-carbon energy, resiliency and electric reliability. Microgrids do so by managing multiple forms of generation with advanced controllers. This sets microgrids apart from simpler distributed generation projects.

“A system based only on solar and wind generation would be low-carbon but would not deliver resilient or reliable service, because these are both intermittent resources dependent on the sun and wind. To be resilient, dispatchable resources such as energy storage and fossil fueled generation sources are required as part of the system,” said the report. “Seamless integration of multiple generation sources and loads is then at the heart of what makes a system a microgrid.”

The Black & Veatch report is available here.

Read more about community microgrids on MicrogridKnowledge.com.

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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