How the Microgrid May Help Save The Environment and Your Wallet

photo by Rennett Stowe via Flickr 

The future of electricity may be defined by microgrids–a greener and more safeguarded alternative to traditional and massive regional power grids.

Though the usage of microgrids has yet to be adopted by most areas of the country, they promise much in the way of reliable and even renewable energy. Below are six facts about microgrids that may have you running to your state or local representatives.

Microgrids are significantly more eco-friendly

By cutting down the necessity for large-scale power plants which are often powered by carbon rich fossil fuels, micro-grids could help drastically cut CO2 emissions.  Since localized grids would require a much smaller amount of energy, they would allow the feasibility of sustainable energy sources like biomass boilers, solar panels, and wind turbines.

Local grids would provide more reliable energy

Since the power is localized, micro-grids may help safeguard against widespread blackouts like the ones seen after Superstorm Sandy.

With a whopping 8.1 million homes having lost power during Hurricane Sandy, such grids may help supply electricity in the future, when we need it most. Since the impact of losing smaller grids would affect a significantly smaller number of people, and due to the fact that local grids may offer some energy storage, they would be an effective solution in mitigating the risk of large-scale blackouts.

Microgrids are very efficient, just not when it comes to cost

A major obstacle in instituting localized grids is the major infrastructural change and subsequently massive funding that they would require.

Energy expert David Ferris explains that Connecticut’s proposed nine microgrids will cost its taxpayers a hefty $18 million (not including new sources of power they will require). This price is subject to change given that micro-grid technology is still in a state of discovery, and construction could turn into a more complicated matter.

Microgrids are already being used around the country, and for varying purposes

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Though the widespread usage of microgrids is still far from reality, there are certain areas nationwide which have opted in favor of smaller scale grids. Below are two charts from GTM research which show microgrid use by state as well as well was the regional uses for such grids.

Microgrids can deliver energy from the source to home more efficiently

One of the major drawbacks of current large-scale power grids is the energy loss which occurs between the source location and one’s home. Because of lengthy power lines, one may lose on average of 6-8 percent (pdf) of energy in this transmission process (or even more depending on distance from the source). This percentage, however, is dwarfed by the shocking 62 percent of power plant energy that is lost in the conversion of fossil fuels to electricity.

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Microgrids on the other hand claim they can save up to 15 percent of the energy lost in long transmissions.

The microgrid market is projected to grow significantly in the next five years

Navigant Research has projected that microgrid revenue will grow from $10 billion in 2013 to $40 billion by 2020. This growth, they state, will be due in part to decreasing cost, the ability to store energy from large power plants, and the easing of regulations on the how microgrids are allowed to distribute energy in times of need.

So what’s next?

The upside to microgrids is encouraging, both from an economic and environmental standpoint, but the reality is that such grids are still far from commonplace.

In the future, as renewable energy continues to grow, we may see large scale adoption of such technology. For now, we’ll have to take satisfaction in knowing that less can be more.

One way we measure our success is by the amount of new awareness we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much new awareness did we deliver about this topic compared to what you had before?
James Pero