Solar Sharing and Microgrids Now Trending Within Communities
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In this day and age where the world is faced with climate change and forced to think of ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy has gained momentum as an alternative to non-renewables such as oil, gas and coal. In more recent years, solar has become a popular way to power homes and buildings.
Photovoltaic technology has advanced and made solar panels more affordable and feasible to install. Solar power not only has the capacity to power an individual home, but there is often an excess of energy generated that can be sold back to the grid. But to go one step beyond this, homeowners are now spearheading the idea of sharing this excess energy with other homes and businesses within their community and starting microgrids of their own.
Researchers from the University of Huddersfield in the United Kingdom have looked into ways of sharing excess solar energy rather than it being exported to the national grid. According to Mahmoud Dhimish, one of the biggest challenges with solar sharing is the unpredictability of photovoltaic system outputs and the difficulty of matching the energy demand and supply for consumers. But the research team came together and developed a new solar detection technology that would allow homeowners to maintain and monitor the efficiency of their solar panels. With this ‘cloud’ technology, houses and businesses would be able to connect to one another and manage the electricity demands of the community to ensure each house would receive enough power for their daily needs.
But even before this technology hits the ground running, there are other ways to start community solar sharing. One way is to get together with local businesses and homeowners and talk about purchasing solar panels as a group. Buying them in large quantities will reduce costs since the group will get them at a discounted bulk rate. Another way to invest in renewable energies is by purchasing electricity from renewable energy generation plants or online solar interment platforms.
Brooklyn Microgrid Project
Another innovative idea to share renewable energies within communities is being spearheaded by LO3 Energy, a New York-based start-up. They have been developing software that would allow peer-to-peer networking for secure online transactions for sharing renewable energy. This ‘blockchain’ technology would allow homeowners or businesses with stored energy to operate as virtual power plants and distribute the excess energy to others.
LO3 Energy also started the Brooklyn Microgrid project which allows residents in communities such Park Slope, Gowanus, and Boerum Hill to directly trade power. Homes that are powered with solar panels can sell their excess energy to homes and businesses within the community instead of having it exported to the national grid. In April 2016, the company conducted a successful trial of their blockchain technology to trade power digitally. Since then, 50 households in Brooklyn have started producing energy and the company has had hundreds of consumers sign up to tap into this local source of electricity. The Brooklyn Microgrid project is still in its early stages of development, but the company is hoping to obtain regulatory approval within the next few months to launch power-trading in Brooklyn.
Unlike standard microgrids that operate independently of the country’s central grid, the Brooklyn Microgrid will still be hooked up to the national grid. Although the community will not have full autonomy, they will still have an energy trading platform that allows local homeowners and businesses to share power. Despite their high start-up costs and legislative hoops to maneuver, microgrids have the capacity to monitor and maintain the energy supply and demands of communities. In the United States there are already 160 microgrids that have been established, and according to a GTM Research report, the microgrid market is expected to grow 116% by 2020.
Push for Microgrids
Having microgrids that are autonomous from the national grid give communities more energy security because they will not be affected by power outages from the central grid. The U.S. electric grid, for example, cannot always support the high energy demands of the country. Brian Millar, from Colorado’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, says that it can take a long time for centralized grids to come back online once they go down. Natural disasters, like hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, also pose a threat to the country’s central grid because sections of it can be blacked out for days. The U.S. Department of Energy has found that power outages cost the country between $18 and $33 billion every year, and that extreme weather is the top cause.
To help address this problem, Miller believes that “if we have microgrids, the microgrids can survive on their own during the time that the workers are fixing the problem, and all in all, it improves quality of life”. Not only that, but microgrids can also help boost local economies. According to Michael Stadler, a microgrid scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, microgrid technologies can create jobs for electrical engineers, construction companies and for anyone who wants to get more involved in the local energy industry. With microgrids and renewable energy gaining momentum, communities are well on their way to creating a more sustainable future with their energy needs.
Katrina Manning is a content marketing specialist who has penned thousands of articles on green living, health, lifestyle and climate. She mostly writes for Gogreen.org and she is also the author of three books and is currently working on her fourth. In her free time, she enjoys fundraising for charitable causes, playing with her cat and baking.