Why Insiders are Bullish on Microgrid

March 10, 2014
Microgrids are coming to the US, but they face some significant roadblocks. What’s driving the sudden upswing in their development? And what’s getting in the way? Here is what a panel of experts in Boston had to say last week in Part I of our coverage.

Microgrids are coming to the US, but they face some significant roadblocks. What’s driving the sudden upswing in their development? And what’s getting in the way?

A panel of microgrid experts tackled these questions last week at the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) BuildingEnergy 14 conference in Boston.

Ed Krapels, founder of Anbaric Holding, acknowledged that he might appear to be a somewhat unlikely supporter of microgrids. Krapels is a long-time developer of transmission. But even as he continues to develop transmission, he has become bearish on transmission and bullish on microgrids.

“I’ve learned in the last 15 years that building transmission is almost impossible in the Northeast,” he said, pointing to Northeast Utilities’ Northern Pass project, as an example. Fierce opposition from New Hampshire landowners has delayed the line, which is meant to bring 1200 MW of hydroelectricity from Canada into New England.

Once the US figures out the right business model for microgrids, they will “take off in the same way independent development of power plants has taken off,” Krapels said.

Galen Nelson, director of market development at Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said that the biggest barrier to microgrid is not technical or financial but political. The solution lies in “changing the way we think about this business model and moving a lot of powerful players in the right direction,” he said.

Massachusetts regulators have a grid modernization proceeding underway that includes a look at microgrids. The state plans to designate funds and issue a solicitation that is likely to include a microgrid component, he said.

Meanwhile, nearby Connecticut has issued two solicitations already for microgrids, one last week. The state has exhibited “strong political will” to create a regulatory framework that accommodates microgrids, said Genevieve Sherman, senior manager at the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority.

“Utility franchise rights in Connecticut are now essentially erased for municipal microgrids. So if you have a microgrid in Connecticut that is serving what is considered a municipal critical facility, you can string wires wherever you want, and the utility is not allowed to sue you – although that could still be challenged in court,” she said.

That leads to the big elephant in the room. How will utilities react to this new wave of microgrid development? Will they block or embrace it?

Read Part II of this discussion on EnergyEfficiencyMarkets.com. Or have the next part delivered directly to your mailbox by subscribing to Energy Efficiency Markets’ free newsletter

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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