Microgrids mean no more mega-outages

Less is more

A call for more “microgrids” in America from Amory Lovins, one of the country’s leading thinkers on renewable energy.

Lovins issued a plea for a cellular approach to energy  – and so do we – where mini-grids around the country make it impossible for a vast outage like the ones in the NorthEast last month or the mega-outage in 2003.

In Time Magazine this week, Lovins calls this idea (proposed last year in my book OFF THE GRID) a way of saving the US Grid.  I prefer to see it as a way of superceding the grid, and the whole business model that goes with it.

Lovins does not get into who would own the tiny microgrids that we and many others think should be built.  Yet that is the crux of the question.  I have always argued that it should be local communities themselves that own their own grids that provide their power.  Lovins implies (but perhaps does not believe) that the grids should be owned by the existing major power companies, which control the current $400 billion a year electricity industry.

Lovins seems much more enamoured by  the status quo than is justified by the facts. “With a smart portfolio of renewable generators,” he says, “we can cost-effectively redesign a secure grid.  This seems to be code for support of the smart grid — the $1.5 trillion dollar grid upgrade, which is seen as a fair accompli inside the industry despite widespread opposition and a huge bill, mainly for energy users and taxpayers.

“Distributed generators are closer to customers and can make a grid more resilient, splitting it into myriad microgrids that normally interconnect but can stand alone at need and still serve key loads. My house high in the Colorado Rockies does this (I can’t even tell when the grid fails.) So do 20 microgrid experiments around the world. So does Denmark’s pilot “cellular” grid. So does Cuba’s grid, which cut serious blackout days from 224 in 2005 to zero in 2007, then in 2008 sustained vital services through two grid-shredding hurricanes in two weeks.”

Off-Grid.net has been fighting for microgrids since 2005.  At last the tide seems to be turning in favor of microgrids.   Now the world needs to see successful working examples.

It will probably be the US military which pioneers the proof of concept.

But States or the Federal Government could make money available for civilian projects as well.



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