Microgrids: Future of US power?
Modernizing the power grid is a national priority and will no doubt be a part of the new climate and energy bill (if it is ever finalised), but one idea that could be the best way of utilizing the US's power supply is green microgrids - a more environmentally friendly smart grid.
While the current inefficient system is wasting millions of dollars worth of electricity per year and contributing to the country's enormous carbon footprint (40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions result from electricity, making it a primary contributor to global warming - even more than carbon generated by transportation), green microgrids would seek to cap emissions through clean power generation.
By integrating such renewable sources of energy, it will ensure reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the strain on large, emission-heavy power plants with smart microgrids, improving its performance as a result.
Meeting specific local goals
Speaking to Politico, Kurt Yeager, co-author of "Perfect Power: How the Microgrid Revolution Will Unleash Cleaner, Greener, More Abundant Energy" said "Cities like Austin, Texas, Naperville, Ill., and Leesburg, Fla., already own and operate microgrid-like electricity systems that are more reliable, and system improvements are due to allow residents to manage their consumption, increase efficiency and lower overall costs. Meanwhile, privately developed microgrid distribution systems are up and running in places like the Illinois Institute of Technology and military bases, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where state regulatory barriers do not exist.
"Smart microgrids can generate, distribute and regulate the flow of electricity to serve the needs of specific consumers. Operating on the local scale, they can help make electricity distribution more efficient and reliable. They are designed to meet specific local goals - like carbon reduction, diversifying energy sources or cost reduction - set by the community, business or military base they serve."
While they may seem like a great idea, microgrids have never been embraced by the US due, as Yeager speculates, to a resistance rooted in a tendency to cling to the familiar. However new policy reforms could give the technology the endorsement it needs to rejuvenate the US power system.
The first would be a federal financing program for distribution system improvements at the microgrid level, modeled after the Property Assessed Clean Energy program. This could ensure a consumer focus by giving local communities the ability to control performance improvements, finance their own microgrid development and attract private investment and innovation.
With power outages common across the country, as well as the power grid constantly affected by turbulent weather, smart microgrids would be able to combat these problems by integrating redundant distribution, smart switches, automation, power generation, power storage and other smart technologies. Local generation and storage allow portions of the grid and critical facilities to operate independently of the larger grid when necessary.
Only time will tell if the technology is fully embraced by the American power industry.
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