Sustainability as a Driver for Microgrids: It’s Real

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Ask almost any microgrid developer why customers choose to install microgrids and they’ll cite three main reasons: electric reliability, cost reduction and sustainability.

sustainability

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The third, sustainability, is sometimes viewed as a bit squishy, perhaps not easy to quantify. Or as Lux Research put it in a new report released today: 

The word is on everyone’s lips, but when it comes out, it still can provoke an eye roll or a skeptically arched eyebrow. There seems to be a general consensus about its importance, but it can still evoke impressions of naïvely idealistic activism, or of cynical corporate “greenwashing” campaigns that amounted to a lot of marketing and little substance. 

But the skepticism is waning as a range stakeholders — shareholders, consumers and employees — embrace sustainability, according to Lux Research.

“Companies have already been driven to bankruptcy in part due to not responding quickly enough to these changing consumer demands, making sustainability an important factor for businesses to consider,”  says Gihan Hewage, lead author of the report. 

Sustainability winners and losers

By way of example the report points out that companies with the highest environmental, social, and governance (ESG) scores have seen above-average growth over the last five years. 

The report also notes that entire products can be upended if they are on the wrong side of sustainability messaging, as exemplified by plastic straws after a video of a plastic straw stuck in a turtle’s nose went viral in 2018. 

And when it comes to the power of corporate sustainability in keeping personnel happy — or in this case unhappy — the report describes how more than 300 Amazon employees protested against Amazon’s climate and social practices, even after being warned that their actions could cost them their jobs. 

For the microgrid industry, the rising demand for sustainability fits into its value proposition. Microgrids offer their host businesses and organizations the opportunity to determine their own energy mix, which increasingly includes solar, wind, energy storage, electric vehicles and renewable fuels. In addition, quick-acting microgrids can inject power into the grid at times when sudden loss of renewable energy due to weather causes an imbalance in supply and demand. By providing this service, microgrids open the way for incorporation of more renewable energy onto the central grid.

Sustainable microgrids

Here are a few examples of microgrids that are notable for their sustainability features:

  • Northeastern University is building  a microgrid designed to align its 73-acre Massachusetts campus with the City of Boston’s goal to become carbon neutral. In addition to using highly efficient combined heat and power, the Ameresco project incorporates 36 energy conservation measures and other green features.
  • The US second largest egg producer, Rose Acre Farms, is teaming with North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives and Tideland EMC to develop an agricultural microgrid in Hyde County. The microgrid project aims to deliver enhanced environmental sustainability and power grid resiliency. It will include solar panels, energy storage, and other components owned by the cooperatives, as well as resources owned by the farm.
  • Stop & Shop, a major retail chain in the US Northeast, plans to intsall microgrids in 40 of its grocery stores both to ensure reliable power and reduce the stores’ carbon footprint. The microgrids, which will use Bloom Energy fuel cells, are expected to reduce carbon emissions by over 15,000 metric tons per year, the equivalent of removing about 3,200 cars from the road.
Learn more at the free Microgrid Knowledge Virtual Conference

Interested in learning more about microgrids and sustainability? Register to view the free roundtable discussion, “Staying the Course on Clean Energy in a Time of Societal Disruption,” 10 am, Tuesday, June 2, part of a free three day virtual conference, being offered by Microgrid Knowledge June 1-3.

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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.

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