Empowering the individual to make a collective difference

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Mark Feasel, president of smart grid North America at Schneider Electric, explains why sustainability efforts must empower individuals and local communities to make their own energy choices — including the integration of distributed energy resources and microgrids.

sustainability

Mark Feasel, president of smart grid North America at Schneider Electric

The adage “think globally, act locally” was coined in 1915 by Scottish planner and conservationist Patrick Geddes, who inspired impactful transformation for many communities in his time. Since its inception, Geddes’ concept has been successfully applied to many industries and strategies — and addressing climate change is no exception. Indeed, local choices in favor of sustainability can have a global impact.

The path to solving climate change is not revealed in one singular, significant action. Rather, it is made up of many impactful, often individual, decisions. Fortunately, this makes solving a global issue more realistic — and tangible. The journey to course correcting climate issues starts at home and in our own communities. Smaller, daily choices, such as monitoring your water usage and electricity consumption, are more commonplace best practices. Moreover, individuals working at local municipalities and organizations should be empowered to incorporate energy from distributed energy resources such as microgrids to take sustainability decisions to the next level and positively impact local communities.

Lowering barriers to a greener future

In order for communities to take full advantage of the sustainable energy options available to them, the technical, institutional, financial and even stakeholder barriers to entry must be addressed first. Although installing a microgrid seems like a daunting task for an individual home or local community, the truth is microgrids are an accessible option for many.

However, it’s important to understand whether a microgrid is the best option and if it ensures the best return on investment. There are preliminary assessments and calculations, such as sizing studies and equipment specifications that can help determine the best options and address many of those aforementioned challenges. Using these assessments helps microgrids unify distributed energy resources like solar, battery, electric vehicles and even diesel generators. On top of that, when equipped with cloud-connected software, modern microgrids can even take the guesswork out of maintenance and maximize efficiency. To overcome the financial hurdle, an energy-as-a-service model can help easily convert buildings and communities to renewable energy through a cost-effective, resilient and sustainable energy approach, with no upfront capital expenses or operational risks.

Green building infrastructures help fight climate change

Taking advantage of existing resources, or even other microgrids, allows communities to begin reaping the financial and sustainability benefits sooner. A recent example of this is a municipality in Maryland that plans to set up a bus depot microgrid that includes electric bus chargers for its ridesharing fleet.

Leveraging its own power supply, the community can avoid utility demand charges and dictate charging schedules to increase efficiency. Added resiliency for the bus service during any long-term power outages, including severe weather events or utility grid outages, is an added bonus.

If your local community doesn’t have a microgrid, there are other ways to leverage sustainable residential technology without homeowners having to shoulder the burden. The Sundance at Park Circle community outside of San Diego, California, is addressing this problem by building homes with green technology from the start — complete with groundbreaking smart home technology to address energy control and resiliency.

Decarbonized cities are economically advanced — and resilient — cities

Extreme weather events, like persistent wildfires in California and plummeting temperatures in Texas, continue to chisel away at power supply dependence. With frequent outages and skyrocketing energy prices tied to these weather events compounded with an unreliable grid, identifying a solution for this decades-long problem of insufficient power has become a priority for industry and community leaders — let alone the public, who bear the brunt of infrastructure failure.

In fact, the Department of Energy recently estimated that outages are costing the US economy $150 billion annually. With microgrids, outages don’t impact the ability to keep the lights on. This is because they are designed to capture solar energy when it’s available and store it until it needs to be used — like during an outage — and they can also sell the power back to the utility when it’s not needed.

The reality is that individuals have the ability to make a real impact. Just as we think about microgrids being modular and scalable to provide substantial amounts of power, the communities that make sustainable choices are serving as a force multiplier of positive change. Green infrastructure and clean energy are not only good for the planet, but they also benefit economic growth and community resilience in the face of the mounting cost of inaction.

Mark Feasel is president of smart grid North America at Schneider Electric.

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Comments

  1. Terry Hill says:

    Isn’t if about time to cut to the chase. When I look at pictures of the aftermath of fires in Paradise in California and, recently, in Colorado all I see is block after block of devastation. What immediately comes to mind is the EcoBlock project, the proposal from Stanford/IBNL to retrofit an eating Blok with it’s own microgrid. To my mind this is where the discussion of decarbonizing the grid must end up. Integrating the concept of an energy plus building (insulated, with its own PV, storage and direct current (DC) appliances) with a DC microgrid as an aggregation vehicle makes sense. This set up eliminates the need for inverters in each home (reduced components) requiring only a single point of contact with the big grid. It also raises the potential to create an income stream for the block community by providing ancillary services back to the big grid, resources into the wholesale market (FERC 2222) and EV fast charging.

  2. “Although installing a microgrid seems like a daunting task for an individual home or local community, the truth is microgrids are an accessible option for many.”

    When one looks at the recent history of technology applied to solar PV and energy storage from 20 years ago to today, one can see the enormity of the statement above. There is a company II-VI that makes SiC power transistors often used in inverter technology that has just signed a JV with another company that has designed a thin film diamond technology that will be used to improve the SiC power electronics that is now used in energy star high efficiency air conditioning units, inverters for residential and utility applications from solar PV to smart ESS inverters and inverters used in BEVs. The price point of installing solar PV on one’s home 20 years ago has dropped precipitously and adders like smart ESS or even small micro-grids for home use will come down in installed price as electronic and battery technology drops the price of an installed (system). The rote IOU electric utilities are going to have to find a better business model than buying wholesale electricity then bundling all of their financial and cost adders to the end user residential rate payers.