A New Industry
At BarrierEnergy, we stay on the heels of up and coming technology in the energy efficiency industry. One of the forerunners for pioneering this new technology is MicroGrid Knowledge. Recently, we watched a webinar with industry leaders, including our own local Lois Capps. Lois is 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 a 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 increased, we have continued to add to this “one-size-fits-all” approach. It gets more complicated every day. The microgrid is the solution to the increasing mess of blackouts and energy waste.
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.
Did you know Santa Barbara is the birthplace of Earth Day? Yes, we have been strongly influenced by our community. However, there are also measurable reasons why upgrading our energy infrastructure can be of value. Some of the common misconceptions about smart technology include that it is costly, or that it’s unnecessary. Contrarily, this brief webinar served to clarify all the reasons why microgrid technology is valuable and financially viable.
One major reason to support microgrids are 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.
With Microgrid technology, energy is produced and stored onsite, meaning within a building or community. Doing so creates resiliency that can serve 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, several examples of schools that were successful with this technology were discussed. 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 they invested in microgrid technology. Now, they work with a $94 million budget and only spend $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.
Busting the Myth
Often, people also believe that initial the 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 cold 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 who is pushing for a shift toward sustainability. This 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. Lets 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.
DSIREUSA.org – map of availability of Power Purchase Agreements in the US
Generation180.org – nonprofit Solar for all Schools Initiative
Clean-Coalition.org – creating models of clean energy systems
TheSolarFoundation.org – nonprofit Commercial Solar