What Microgrids and Microbreweries Have in Common
Have you noticed how microbreweries and craft beer have re-energized the market for beer in this country? They have enabled an explosion of new brews and unique flavors made of fresher ingredients. They have intertwined with novel food pairings, good causes and a range of local or brand affiliated activities and ventures. They have brought life back to abandoned warehouses and dilapidated neighborhoods. They are in inner cities, rural country sides, and remote islands across the country, enhancing some element of local awareness or recognition. Microbreweries are increasingly owned and run by a greater diversity of race and gender. They represent a spirit of entrepreneurship, local content and community that is refreshing. Major consolidated breweries have continued to operate at scale, delivering a consistent commodity product at lower cost, while at the same time pressing to “up their game” and staying relevant. It is arguable that both the industry and the marketplace are more robust and resilient for the advent of microbreweries.
Can this be a metaphor for the power grid? At Beacon Climate Innovations, we think so. Multi-User Microgrids can produce greater value to a neighborhood (e.g., better air quality, lower costs, diverse customer base) from “fresher ingredients” (e.g., solar, wind, geothermal). They can more readily intertwine with other clean technologies and carbon reduction practices, like electric vehicles (EVs), air source heat pumps, demand side management and energy efficiency. With very modest training, they can be installed by local resources applying “contracting for equity” practices. Multi-user microgrids will deliver cost-savings under ordinary operation, macro-grid support during periods of high stress on the system, and back up power to emergency management services and resilience hubs in the event of a macro grid outage. Every town, city, neighborhood has its unique character and behaviors – that even filters down to how it uses power. Intelligent microgrids can be tailored to the needs of each area – designed to evolve, adjust, and expand to readily reflect a changing character - as the needs change. They can work hand in hand with the macro-grid as it ages and evolves. Multi-user microgrids are the ticket to reinvigorating our electric grid for the 21st century (e.g., Grid 2.0).
Microbreweries overcame a big challenge to gain traction amidst the market dominance of major beer brand names. Multi-user microgrids must confront multiple barriers of similar magnitude. In addition to “swimming” amongst regulated utilities, they face arcane, technology-lagging policies and regulations at every level of government. Until recently, the current electric grid in the US has been sheltered by risk-adverse mindsets and siloed processes that exist in municipalities and utilities alike. They have been slow to adopt analyses that better account for total value (e.g., local content, equity, and resilience) and actual cost (e.g., externalities). Innovative technologies and practices in this space generally end up with the down slope of a tilted playing field. All too often, incentives designed to level that playing field are either out-of-bounds for municipalities (e.g., ITC) or subject to a labyrinth of subjective requirements and bureaucracy. In assessing these challenges and exploring solutions, Beacon Climate Innovations has come up with “Pub-Power™”. It is a novel model for community investment and ownership of Multi-User Microgrids that fully leverages incentives and provides stable returns for local investments of any size while mitigating risk to municipal/utility entities. Beacon Climate will be discussing Pub-Power™ at the Show Case Start Up at Greentown Labs’ upcoming Climatetech Summit. Please join us.