Will Congress Include Microgrids in Upcoming Energy Legislation?

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Credit: Architect of the Capitol

Will microgrids be included in upcoming energy legislation being mulled by Congress? Hard to say, but the topic definitely drew some interesting discussion before the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources last week.

The committee heard testimony about electric grid advances in preparation for an upcoming energy bill that is expected to have a strong electric power focus.

Peter Littlewood, director of the Argonne National Laboratory, offered plenty for the committee to think about, in his answer to a question by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts.  Warren wanted to better understand how renewables and microgrids create resiliency, which is industry code for keeping the lights on when a natural disaster strikes.

Littlewood explained the danger or relying on a monolithic, centralized grid.

“The grid is a very complicated object. Even now when it’s being driven in a one-way mode, it interacts in very complicated and very subtle ways. And actually we do not understand it,” Littlewood said.

A resilient grid needs to be less a “single connected object” and more a web, like the Internet, he said.

“One of the dangers in major disasters is that you lose first the grid, then the Internet, then water, then the ability to distribute many, many different kinds of things,” he said. “The very basic principles of resilience tell you that one monolithic, big thing is a dangerous thing to be working with.”

Microgrids, which can operate independently from the grid, offer a way to keep power flowing to critical infrastructure when the central grid fails.

Microgrids also got a boost from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, committee chair, who pointed out the role her state, Alaska, has played in microgrid development.  Alaska leads the world in microgrid development.

“We’re talking a lot in my state about microgrids. Many people don’t think of us as being pioneers in this area, but what we are doing with microgrids – what used to be called “isolated islanded grids” – is really making a difference in a state where sometimes it’s tough to keep warm and keep the lights on,” she said in her opening remarks.

By way of example, the Republican senator cited a remote southwestern Alaskan village that keeps the lights on with a microgrid that includes a few wind turbines, batteries and small heating units in homes. She described the microgrid as “perfect for them.”

The hearing “The State of Technological Innovation Related to the Electric Grid,” also drew testimony from American Electric Power, the Electric Power Research Institute, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Archived video of the March 17 hearing is here.

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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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  1. […] a hearing in March, Murkowski described the benefits remote microgrids have brought to Alaska, which has more microgrids than any other […]

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