Why Insiders are Bullish on Microgrid

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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

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Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.

Comments

  1. Hi Lisa.. Good article. Hope to see you soon.

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