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A New Industry

At BarrierEnergy, we stay on the heels of up-and-coming technology in the energy efficiency industry. MicroGrid Knowledge is one of the forerunners in pioneering this new technology. Recently, we watched a webinar with industry leaders, including our own local Lois Capps. Lois is the current President of the Santa Barbara Unified Board of Education. He spoke about how school districts nationwide are participating in creating resilient energy systems.

Microgrids are systems that can work independently from the larger energy grid, or macro grid. The macro-grid consists of the components used for the majority of modern energy distribution. Telephone poles, wires, transformers, and the like are all connected in one giant system to transfer energy to the consumer. Instead of updating our energy system as demand increases, we have continued to add to this “one-size-fits-all” approach. It gets more complicated to upkeep these old systems that are falling apart, every day. The microgrid is the solution to the increasing mess of blackouts and energy waste.

House with Solar Panels Next to Generator and Wind Mills

House with Solar Panels Next to Generator and Wind Mills

The components of a microgrid typically involve some sort of renewable energy resource, a generator, on-site energy storage, and a small-scale substation. These systems can provide energy for a single household to an entire community. They work in harmony with the larger grid, but also have the ability to operate in “island mode”. So, at times when the sun is shining, the microgrid could produce excess energy. It can give that extra energy back to the large grid system or store it. Alternatively, if the grid isn’t producing enough energy without taking from storage, it can pull energy from the macro-grid.

An Increasing Necessity

A common misconception about smart technology is that it’s unnecessary. Contrarily, everybody needs access to power. All across the country, geography makes some areas prone to drought, flood, hurricane, icy conditions, fire, etc. This isn’t an argument for convenience, but a necessity. One major reason to support microgrids is natural disasters. When disaster strikes, most are left helpless. School systems for one, present a great opportunity to implement microgrids.

One of the most qualitative functions of schools is to serve as community hubs. When there are natural disasters, people come to schools to have protection and food. If a school relies on the grid during an emergency, even with a generator, a school will eventually lose power. It is vital to be able to keep food refrigerated and lighting active. This year, Hurricane Laura caused 80 thousand power outages in southern states. Blackouts can also be caused by wildfires, fallen power lines, old infrastructure, or even simply energy overloads during peak seasons.

Communities Coming Together

Individuals and communities can decide to invest in these initiatives. Vital businesses, particularly hospitals, present a basic starting part for these new systems. They need to remain functional, especially in the case of natural disasters. Here, on the West Coast and specifically in California, we suffer from widespread power outages. That’s because we rely on expansive networks of power lines operated by a centralized source that cannot compensate. These systems are vulnerable to weather patterns, peak seasons, and erosion. 

We need to decide as a nation, whether we want the people or corporations to be in charge of our energy and livelihoods. Because of the grid’s vulnerability across wide swaths of land, there are times when it must be shut down or it becomes damaged. PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric) is in control of whether a community has access to power. If their system fails for any reason, it is the people who suffer. It can cost lives when power is lost in an emergency or for an extended amount of time. With increasing access to microgrids, we can change our communities. You can get involved by expressing your support for funding microgrid projects. For example, you can always do is vote and write letters to elected officials!

Energy Resilience

Microgrids produce and store energy onsite, within a building or community. Doing so creates resiliency which serves the community indefinitely. The energy doesn’t have to travel hundreds of miles and get wasted along the way. Plus, advances in technology allow for smarter energy allocation. For example, load tiering is a system that distinguishes between high-priority and low-priority energy requirements. Refrigeration might need more energy compared to lighting. Overall, the use of microgrids results in less energy being wasted through energy distribution and usage.

Another huge benefit to installing this kind of technology is the long-term savings that will inevitably come. The widespread myth about investing in onsite energy production is that it’s not financially feasible. In this webinar, experts discussed several examples of schools that were successful with this technology. One of the speakers is directly involved in the budgeting and the implementation of this technology in schools. He started in 2004 working with a school in Massachusetts, where energy costs are fairly high. The total spending budget was around $70 million, and the energy costs totaled $1.1 million. That makes energy costs the second-highest budget item! Since 2004 this school in MA expanded and invested in microgrid technology.

Afterward, they had a $94 million budget and only spent $600 thousand. They were also able to add larger facilities and hire four more staff members. Rather than cutting spending for staffing, schools that invest in this system can cut energy costs. In the long term, the benefits of microgrid use are higher quality education, increased revenue, and greater savings. Microgrids not only save money for businesses and economies during disasters, but their efficiency saves money year-round.

Busting the Myth

Often, people also believe that the initial installation fees of a microgrid system are not feasible.  The panelists from MicroGrid Knowledge shared their use of Power Purchase Agreements to implement solar panels and battery storage with almost no upfront costs. In fact, there are many ways to get affordable loans with little to no money down. Instead of taking a large sum up-front, money is usually taken monthly at a rate to offset the savings that are achieved. Furthermore, as technology continues to develop, microgrids become increasingly efficient and cost-effective over time.

Lastly, another huge benefit of this technology lies in its potential to provide a valuable learning experience for students. Educational institutions are here to inform students and prepare them for the world that awaits them. Collecting data from solar panels and battery storage can be STEM learning activity. Students can also receive introductory vocational training. These students will one day seek employment in the world we share. Indeed, it is this upcoming generation that is pushing for a shift toward sustainability. This is not just important for the planet, but also profitable and smart. Green energy is a fast-growing industry sector of the economy. It is clear that this new technology represents a resilient, sustainable future. Let’s not waste this chance for huge savings and growth. You can watch the free recording of the webinar by registering here

Visit the sites below for more information.

Map of availability of Power Purchase Agreements in the US
Nonprofit Solar for all Schools Initiative
Clean Coalition – creating models of clean energy systems
Nonprofit Commercial Solar

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