The Potential Impact of Energy Micro Grids


By Daniel Adkins

The energy sector is changing as renewables enter the picture.  The traditional model of a utility, buying from distant producers and delivering service across states, is being challenged by local production.  Micro grids facilitate these changes by balancing renewable power.  These grids can operate independently and thus offer redundancy and potentially local control.  This change offers a breakthrough for democracy, as some utilities like Dominion Energy run their operation by choosing their political bosses.  Sometimes this slows down the transition to renewables by buying leases and not using them and other techniques.  As long as there is a robust education system, there is little reason why a state cannot power itself using networks of micro grids (public and private) and using the utility as a coordinator.  Utilities need not be the states’ unofficial energy department.  Networks of local control are opposed to the reality of our corporations having so much influence that they run our government and continue to invest in fossil fuels.

Electrical micro grids are characterized by three qualities.  They are local, operationally an island, and orchestrated.  This means that micro grids are controlled by a programmable network capable of running independently or in association with other micro grids or utilities.

Micro grids come in many sizes from the whole of the University of Texas in Austin to just a house or apartment building.  Most often, micro grids cover a company or institution.  They could cover a town.  In New York state. interest in micro grids grew after Hurricane Sandy as a way to minimize disaster and speed recovery.  The US military uses micro grids and renewables as a way to minimize the chance of casualties by lessening the need for convoys.  Micro grid software allows prioritizing environmental needs or the cost of service. 

Micro grids must meet the demand for energy peaks during the day and the natural cycles of renewables.  Micro grids offer a means to shave peak energy and balance cycles using technologies like batteries, energy use programming, utility inputs, fuel cells, geothermal resources, and others.

There are two types of micro grids, geothermal and electric.  Most often geothermal grids are building- or site- specific while electrical micro grids have broader potentials like linking other networks near and far.

In the future, a community or coop might have a micro grid getting energy from solar energy, fuel cells, and backed up by a utility or not.  Major corporations like GE and Siemens are investing in micro grid technology as well.  Renewable energy enthusiasts will be motivated to facilitate solar resources by public, private, or coop micro grids.

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Daniel C. Adkins, an active member of Washington, DC DSA, has been a member of the Laborers’ International Union of North America and the American Federation of Teachers, and an officer in the National Treasury Employee’s Union Chapter 213 for the U.S. Department of Energy headquarters.  At the DoE’s Energy Information Administration he was the union partner to EIA’s Administrator for total quality management and quality issues.


This article originally appeared in The Washington Socialist.



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