One New York City neighborhood’s efforts to pool local renewable energy sources reflects a larger push toward decentralized power production and consumption

In the short term Brooklyn Microgrid will operate as a backup option during storms, cyber attacks and other catastrophic disruptions. “The main driver for the project is resiliency in the face of grid events,” says Lawrence Orsini, the founder of LO3 Energy, a company that was started in 2012 and now funds the Brooklyn Microgrid project. “Keeping facilities that are critical for the health and well-being of the community up and running will be the focus at any stage of the development.” But in the long term the infrastructure that LO3 installs—and the corporate entities that it plans on establishing—could set participants on a path to fully owning the electricity their community generates, giving them a say in how to distribute it and possibly encouraging further investment in renewable energy sources.

Microgrids are hardly a new idea. When Thomas Edison first set the country on a course to light every house with tungsten filaments, he conceptualized a patchwork of small, independent utility providerstapping generation sources close to home. When alternating current won out as the standard in electrical power transmission, however, it immediately became feasible to transport it over long distances. And so began the centralization of U.S. electricity distribution.

More than a century later a series of environmental, technological and economic pressures are finally nudging us toward decentralized distribution. The price of renewables has dropped dramatically, meaning that it makes economic sense for someone like Cameron to install a photovoltaic array on her roof. In 2015 solar developers added some 7.3 gigawatts of generating capacity to the U.S.—up from less than a single gigawatt in 2010—with about a quarter now coming from rooftop installations, according to Greentech Media Research, a Boston-based renewable energy research firm. Meanwhile the nation’s utility grid continues to age and expose its vulnerabilities, compelling some states to give communities with high rates of locally generated electricity more control over its distribution.

California was one of the early states to push for microgrid adoption, and this year it became the first to require utilities to share distribution-planning resources with groups that could use the information to set up microgrids. California is also among a handful of states to adopt Community Choice Aggregation, a legal option that lets local governments buy electricity generated in the community and sell it back to residents in direct competition with their investor-owned utility company.

Today, microgrids provide only 0.1 percent of all the electricity generation capacity in the U.S., according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance(ILSR), a nonprofit organization that advocates for communities on environmental issues. And nearly all of them have been built in only seven states, all of which have passed legislation encouraging the adoption of microgrid technology. The ILSR forecasts a doubling or tripling in the number of microgrids over the next five to 10 years

read more original article Scientific America

Date: 2017-01-03

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