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How renewable energy can accelerate the microgrid revolution

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Jared Smith, microgrid expert at PA Consulting Group, is featured in a Triple Pundit article discussing microgrids, the vulnerability and security of the grid, and the need to making resiliency a top priority in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Jose, and Maria. 

Jared says: “These events are making us aware of the vulnerability of the grid. We know that certain grid events are likely to happen, but we need to be more aware of the threat of events, including our vulnerability to cyber attack. The security of the grid affects everything: the economy, national defense, and our day to day lives. We also need to be aware that the grid is vulnerable even to relatively minor intrusions. There is a ripple effect because of the interconnectedness of the grid. That vulnerability is layered on to other disruptions from accidents and weather events.”

Resiliency is just one aspect of microgrid technology, and Jared emphasizes that industry stakeholders are becoming more attuned to other bottom line advantages: “The resiliency aspects and capability arguments for microgrids are both wakeup calls for the industry. Microgrids offer a solution set that has peoples’ attention. Microgrids are a link between the monopoly model of conventional utilities and a more interactive, consumer driven platform. They are a stepping stone, with viable technology that fills the gap. We are living in the Energy Age, and microgrids provide opportunities for consumer choice and consumption options, including pricing options. There are also opportunities to network microgrids with other microgrids, and network microgrids with utilities.”

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Jared notes the potential for microgrids to enable “more dynamic conversations” between energy consumers and producers, which can foster the use of new IT developments like crypto-currency. 

He adds: “It’s a logical progression toward a self-healing system.”

He cautions that utilities have legitimate reasons to be skittish about encouraging distributed renewable energy generation. Independently owned microgrids can compete with utilities for sales of kilowatt-hours, and the growing patchwork of small scale solar arrays and wind turbines can pose safety issues for utility crews. Safety is an especially acute issue where do-it-yourself, jury-rigged systems are involved.

Highlighting advantages for grid resilience in microgrids with DERs, Jared says: “Renewables provide ‘black start’ capabilities. When you have a solar panel on a house with storage, you can get back up and running. In the chaos of post-Irma Florida, restoring order involves identifying live wires and tracking assets. Microgrids could help make it easier to understand where these assets are on a granular level. The concept of grid service is also huge. Renewables have the ability to interact with consumers and their neighbors in the microgrid. That means they have the ability to provide services, and utilities are trying to valuate these services and make them accessible to more consumers.”

Commenting on the Department of Energy "prosumer" idea, a DERs enabled, consumer-oriented grid, Jared says: “Simply put, a prosumer is someone who both produces and consumes energy – a shift made possible, in part, due to the rise of new connected technologies and the steady increase of more renewable power like solar and wind onto our electric grid. Think of it like a Facebook feed or YouTube page. Most users don’t just read or watch content – they also create their own and actively add to the conversation on social media.”


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