Smart community microgrids
Though Texas is planning to address its rapid growth in renewable energy capacity by building transmission lines over long distances, the state may be better served by thinking smaller and supporting local microgrids. Similar to what Brooklyn Microgrid is testing in New York, a peer-to-peer energy market in Texas could help in both balancing the grid and avoiding some challenges associated with HVDC transmission lines, such as risks from extreme weather and long permitting and build times.
As microgrids become more common in the U.S. and elsewhere, a new debate over who can own and operate microgrids is heating up. The question of whether utility ownership of microgrids is permissible on legal and competitive grounds is currently being debated before the District of Columbia Public Service Commission. Two of the biggest utilities in the U.S.—Exelon and NRG Energy—squared off on the issue, with Exelon advocating for a utility role in ownership and NRG Energy urging the commission to ban utilities from owning and building microgrids and other forms of distributed energy.
Regardless of who owns and operates future local microgrids, the future of decentralised generation will likely embrace the power of cloud computing technology to optimise performance and ensure reliability of the power system. A new report from Navigant Research says the global smart grid as a service (SGaaS) market, including data services, cloud-based software, and fully managed services, is expected to increase from $1.3 billion in 2016 to $6 billion in 2025.
In the U.S. the digitisation trend in energy services has significant potential that has not been tapped on the consumer side, according to a report from Parks Research. The report shows that in 2016, 100 million of the 117 million or so U.S. households did not have a single smart device, including smart thermostats. The firm predicts that by 2020, however, 40 million will have smart thermostats and 50 million homes will have at least some smart light bulbs.
Despite these trends, there remain obstacles to fully realising smart community microgrids, including safety and security concerns. Progress on Brooklyn’s landmark community microgrid project has stalled due to fire code issues with lithium-ion batteries. The project includes a 300 kW, 1.2 MWh behind-the-meter lithium-ion battery, so working to integrate such a project within existing fire codes requires more work to get approval from New York safety officials. With the city’s Mayor announcing a 100 MWh by 2020 solar-plus-storage target, it is important to take first steps to address fire and other safety concerns, which the Marcus Garvey Village microgrid project in Brooklyn has started to do.