Microgrids and Smart Grids in Focus at Green Energy Entrepreneur Workshop in San Bernardino

May 19, 2015, San Bernardino, California:The last of three dynamic sessions. The first on solar, then energy storage, wrapping with microgrids and smart grids. Each session focused on roles and niches for entrepreneurs.

The series speakers by all accounts were excellent, and inspirational. We thank Joe Desmond from Brightsource, Jonathan Port of PermaCity Solar, Herb Mendesohn from Solar City, Greg Weyl from STEM, Geoff Danker from the Gas Company, Robyn Zander from Southern California Edison, and Dr. Martinez Morales from University of California at Riverside. And we salute our own Troy Strand, workshop facilitator and EcoMotion’s Senior Solar Specialist, whose expertise and enthusiasm for the changing market shone brightly.

For the third and final workshop, Ted Flanigan began with a 45-minute introduction to grids… from the earliest grids in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and New York City, where various voltages were simultaneously delivered in a tangle of wires… to the rise of massive power plants and bulk transfer transmission… to the new and bold era of microgrids, and smart grids.

There are 3,300 utilities in America, all selling power. Five hundred of them own transmission lines, shares of a half million miles of transmission over 69 kV. Today, over 40% of all power in the United States is generated by independent power producers. And the grid works, so why change it?

Enter events like Hurricane Sandy which knocked out power to over 8 million customers, wiping out much of Wall Street for many months. Enter desires for local control, to maximize renewables, enhance security, and resilience. Utilities are experimenting with microgrids for ancillary services, to shore up voltages and reactive power.

Communities and campuses — such as U.C San Diego — have developed microgrids that have proven profitable. There, a combination of generators, fuel cells, solar systems, and energy storage systems are on display, a flagship project serving 92% of the campus’s electricity requirement.

Some experts say that we don’t need “micro” grids, we need “smart” grids. This is the industry line and the reality. The smart grid movement is about cohesion, integration… what is called “the digital layer” complementing the bricks and mortar T&D infrastructure. The movement has become widespread and powerful, now with data showing 3 – 37% peak demand savings in some of the 99 smart grid projects funded by the USDOE. Billions have been spent to upgrade the grid… with advanced meters that collect time of use data, to addressable appliances in industry and commerce… two-way communications, open access for renewables. During the federal ARRA stimulus period the annual investment in smart grids was on the order of $6 billion a year. Half was  private-sector funded by utilities. Today, as  nation we are spending about $3 billion a year on modernizing the grid.

Other presenters included  Dr.Alfredo Martinez-Morales of U.C. Riverside, a university that provides many microgrid and smart grid technologies. His center, Ce-CERT, has worked hand in hand with Riverside Public Utilities to provide not only an educational benefit, but a community benefit at peak periods. Robyn Zander from Southern California Edison provided sage advice on being an entrepreneur. Her career inspired those attending, following her passions and accepting her luck and fortunes.. retiring and then returning to forge a new career in energy and specifically partnerships with customers and services providers focused on the new electricity paradigm. Edison is supporting an array of public private partnerships for energy efficiency as well as distributed generation and distributed storage. Troy Strand presented his experiences building remote microgrids… on military bases, embassies, and on Caribbean islands.