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Need for small scale energy independence

image credit: New Paradigm Energy LLC

 

In the military we were taught that the three cornerstones for a country to have a true sense of independence are security in food, energy, and the financial sectors of their society. If just one of these cornerstones is not set, the country or society would lose a piece of their independence. As a former U.S. Navy Intelligence Specialist this fundamental truth was drilled into us throughout our training, as was pattern recognition and “best guess” based on credible actions and events, it is with this lens that we look at our energy independence.

I have recently started looking at the patterns of energy dependence in the United States and I’ve found some striking similarities with policies that have been enacted in the endless Afghanistan war and the invasion of Iraq. When a small, select group of people control the flow of a life necessity then they are the ones that are most likely to be listened to, regardless if it is water, food, or power.  

In the United States, the U.S. Electrical Grid isn’t fully owned or maintained by the federal government. An independent system operator (ISO) is an organization formed at the recommendation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision (FERC). In the areas where an ISO is established, it coordinates, controls, and monitors the operation of the electrical power system, usually within a single U.S. state, but sometimes encompassing multiple states. 

What does this mean for us as everyday consumers? It means that we are not in control of where our energy comes from, who our utilities providers are, or how the electricity flows into our homes and businesses. The grid is an antiquated concept with giant vulnerabilities that could be exploited by bad actors or forces of nature. So what is the solution? How about a smart microgrid system that is interconnected forming a larger decentralized energy grid.  These smart grids would have the capability to operate as a piece of the whole with the added capability of acting as an island if the need arose. When a catastrophic failure occurs, the smart microgrids automatically switch over to “island mode” where they are responsible for generating, transporting, consuming and storing all the power produced to their local members. 

Now let's take this a step further, what if we made all of these microgrid components be green energy generation solutions to include, but not limited to, solar arrays, small wind turbines, micro hydro, and more. We have the technology to create systems that are robust, resilient, and reliable. By using smart, green hybrid energy systems with smart storage solutions we can work towards energy independence at a local level. Puting the responsibility and onus on communities and businesses, with oversight by local governments.  

This will help us and our communities to stand on their own. 

Discussions

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Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Dec 1, 2020

Thanks for these thoughts Brandon.  I think you are correct that amid the discussion of the relative technical and financial merits of renewables vs. nuclear vs. fossil fuels, vs. hybrids, are many of the ideas you express here.  But they are rarely mentioned. 

I find it interesting to note that your case for microgrids is most strong in non-urban areas.  After all, big cities are likely to still require large grid systems that give fewer people the energy independence of which you speak.  Brooklyn is not likely to choose the source of its power independently of the Bronx. But, Peoria may choose differently from Bloomington.

Yet, the US is polarized precisely along these same fault lines between urban and rural populations. And the weakest support, I believe, for the green energy transformation composed of ISOs is among these same rural populations, (I may as well say it), i.e. Republicans, ostensibly the most ardent supporters of independent and individual local governance.

So, how do you think this might play out in the 2020s? Or do I misread the nature of our polarized society with respect to the supply of energy?  Perhaps both sides of the divide do mistrust nuclear, understand the non-sustainable nature of fossil fuels and will turn out to be champions of these interconnected but independent, green, renewable microgrids?

Brandon Boucher's picture
Brandon Boucher on Dec 1, 2020

Mark thank you for your comments.

My company recently did a feasibility study on the ability to move the city of Cranston, RI to 100% Green energy, including heating and transportation by 2030. This was a study that was paid for by a coalition of NPOs and PACs led by the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America. It also received bi-partisan support from the State Legislature and the State Senate. 70% of people believe in climate change, the questions usually come up with the "how" not the "why."

Cranston was chosen for the same reason that you brought up, it has three distinct neighborhoods, coastal, urban, and rural. We were able to model the entire city's shift without using greenspace of any kind and using existing infrastructure and brownfields (http://www.riprogressivedems.com/a_new_energy_system). So it can be done.

As for the divisiveness of this topic, we decided to present this as an economic stimulus project, not a combating climate change one. When we lay out the benefits and the number of jobs created, money reinvested back into the local economy, and the evolution of the next generation workforce, no one can really refute it. Numbers are the great equalizer. 

In large cities like NYC we have a real estate issue. It can't really house too many solar panels, can't really have a giant wind turbine in the hudson, so what can we do? My company is working with a small wind turbine company that can produce 4kW of power in just 25 feet of space. The turbines work in the turbulent wind layer so they are perfectly designed for urban deployment. They are currently getting tested for AWEA certification and UL listing.

At New Paradigm Energy we believe we have found a solution that will work for nearly any environment, but it is not the only one. By making this scaleable and repeartable we put the power back into local communities. I'm sure that there are some challenges we won't be able to overcome, we just haven't encountered them yet. I hope this answers some of your questions. 

Brandon Boucher's picture

Thank Brandon for the Post!

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