For locals participating in the Pecan Street Demonstration in Austin’s suburban town of Mueller, TX, residential carbon footprint data is about as available as square footage. Their home utility consumption is monitored by the Pecan Street Research Institute at The University of Texas-Austin as part of the institute’s efforts to understand how individuals can lower their collective carbon impact and use energy more efficiently.
This technology, known as a smart grid system, has proven to be much more efficient than the traditional electrical grid used throughout the U.S. However, smart grids and the smart meters used to track energy usage of individual homes have come under fire for their ‘invasiveness’ as people have vocalized concerns about the lack of privacy that could accompany this advanced monitoring system. Fortunately for the anti-smart meter crowd, there are other ways to make a community more energy efficient.
On or Off the Grid
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, microgrids are local energy grids with control capability, meaning they can disconnect from the electrical grid and operate autonomously. This feature makes them attractive for community application as it would allow buildings or clusters of buildings to continue to operate in the wake of natural disasters or blackouts in addition to using energy available on the grid during times of non-emergency. Unlike diesel generators, microgrids can draw power from a variety of power sources including local sources like rooftop solar panels or wind turbines or energy from fuel cells and biomass-fired power plants.
California has proven itself to be a major proponent for microgrid application as the state recently announced $20.5 million in grants for microgrid projects that apply renewable integration. Interest in microgrid technology has peaked on the opposite coast with Connecticut’s launch of its first microgrid earlier this year and Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and New York announcing plans to apply microgrid friendly projects and policies within the year.
So what does all of this new technology mean for the energy industry? The growth of the microgrid industry, which is expected to balloon to $19.9 billion from the $4.3 billion dollar revenue in 2013, will also bring more work for certified professionals with solar training, therefore contributing to the already exponential growth seen in the solar industry The installation of solar panels is a central part of the microgrid revolution happening across the country as power from the panels is an easily accessible and affordable local power source. Additionally, the grids provide work for biomass plants, wind farms, and keep the utility companies busy. With microgrid technology generating interest not only in the states but on a global scale as well, it may not be too long before we see micro-grids implemented on a macro level.
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