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A new energy future for Puerto Rico beyond recovery

By Daniel Whittle and Ronny Sandoval

Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico in 2017 was overwhelming. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives. Basic services, including power and water, were knocked out for months and the economy ground to a halt.

Power and other services have since been restored to nearly all parts of the island, but the long-term recovery continues. This recovery may not attract as much news as the disaster that led to it, but for Puerto Rico’s long-term prosperity, it is just as important and urgent as restoring basic services.

Puerto Rico’s grid was outdated and fragile before the hurricane, so simply rebuilding and restoring it to pre-Maria condition would be a mistake. Instead, the people of Puerto Rico have an opportunity to build a new energy system that can better protect residents from future super storms, improve the quality of life for everyone and support the island’s economy for decades to come. This will take local leadership, collective action and a new approach to how the energy system is designed, financed and managed.

Communities have been making remarkable progress towards rebuilding. Following their lead is key to making any solution to Puerto Rico’s energy crisis successful in the long term. Together, investors, businesses and nonprofit organizations can add to these efforts by sharing their experiences and new ideas to create a better energy future for Puerto Rico. Read More »

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Illinois blazes new trail in anticipation of private microgrids using utility wires

On May 9, Andrew Barbeau, senior clean energy consultant for Environmental Defense Fund, will speak at the Microgrid 2018 conference. This year’s theme is Markets and Models for the Greater Good, and Andrew will discuss the effort to create a new microgrid tariff for third-party-managed microgrids as described in this post. You can register for the conference here.

Imagine you and your neighbors have solar panels on your roofs. You want to create a mini-power grid so that your neighborhood can operate solely on your panels’ electricity, even sending excess power from one home to another. And if there’s a storm that affects the main power grid, your homes can disconnect and stay powered.

This is the vision that microgrid proponents have promised for the past decade: small sections of the broader grid that incorporate rooftop solar and batteries, and can isolate from the grid as a whole when needed. Yet, this promise faces a major hurdle: The utility owns the wires that connect your homes and has an exclusive monopoly on that electrical infrastructure. This has driven most microgrid projects in the U.S. to either be completely “behind the meter” of a single customer, or owned and managed by the utility itself.

A new agreement with Illinois’ largest utility, ComEd, is poised to jump that hurdle. Working with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), ComEd will begin a process this year to allow customers or third parties to develop and manage their own microgrid projects – working with the utility’s existing infrastructure rather than having to avoid it.

We have received lots of questions on how this will work. Here are your questions answered. Read More »

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Coast to Coast and Across the Electric System, Microgrids Provide Benefits to All

Source: via Wikimedia Commons

Source: via Wikimedia Commons

Microgrids are getting a lot of attention. Yet how they’re developed could dramatically alter today’s electricity system.

At the most obvious level, microgrids could disrupt today’s utilities and their regulated-monopoly business model, because they challenge the centralized paradigm. In a nutshell, microgrids are localized power grids that have the ability to disconnect from the main, centralized grid to operate independently when the main power grid experiences disturbances. This significantly boosts grid resilience. For almost a century, large centralized power plants have generated electricity and delivered that energy over high-voltage transmission lines to customers. But with microgrids, all that could change.

Less obviously, microgrids challenge the basic assumption that the power grid must be controlled by a monopoly electric utility. Multiple microgrids on the south side of Chicago, for example, could be owned by different entities (not just a utility or even a platform provider, which would provide an exchange between customers and distributed energy generators) with contract arrangements among them controlling the sharing of power. Put another way, microgrids open the distribution system to some level of competition and, thereby, engage entrepreneurs and advance innovation. Read More »

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Utility 2.0: What are Utilities Doing to Meet New York’s Vision for a 21st Century Energy System?

nyc skylineSince the New York Public Service Commission (Commission) opened its Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding in the spring to modernize the state’s electricity system, a lot has happened. Namely, New York utilities are already working to align themselves with the broad objectives outlined in the REV proceeding. Here is an overview of efforts by the state’s big players:

CON EDISON – Brooklyn/Queens Demand Management Program

Growth in electricity demand in parts of Brooklyn and Queens is taxing infrastructure and will require action from Con Edison to ensure reliability. Con Edison could pursue a costly $1 billion substation upgrade to meet this rising demand. Instead, the utility is slashing needed investment by half and plans to invest around $500 million – $305 million in traditional utility investments and $200 million clean energy resources – to address the area’s growing energy needs as part of its Brooklyn/Queens Demand Management program. Measures include:

  • Demand Response (a tool that pays customers to conserve energy when the electric grid is stressed): A new demand response system from energy services provider Alstom, which would allow 3.3 million customers to be compensated for the value they provide to the grid.
  • Energy Storage: Battery-based energy storage for electricity produced when electricity demand is low (off-peak hours) for use when demand is high (peak periods), easing the burden on the electric grid at those times.
  • Microgrids (which generate electricity nearby or on-site where it’s consumed): The development of microgrids to improve resiliency and enable the aforementioned demand response system.
  • Electric Grid Resilience and Optimization: Expanded use of smart meters, which provide detailed electricity use data throughout the day, will improve response time to power outages and give customers more control over their energy usage.

Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Energy Storage, New York, Renewable Energy, Utility Business Models / Also tagged | Read 2 Responses