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Microgrids Empower Energy Consumers to Claim Autonomy from Public Infrastructure

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Zachary  Bradford's picture
CEO CleanSpark

Zachary K. Bradford, served as the Company's Chief Financial Officer from 2014 through October 2019 at which time he was named as the Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Bradford holds a B.S. in...

  • Member since 2021
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  • May 26, 2021 5:30 am GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021 - 05 - Grid Modernization, click here for more

Massive power outages across the country caused by unexpected forces of Mother Nature have renewed public interest in power grids and concerns surrounding their reliability. Forward-thinking consumers understand that energy-efficient choices play a critical role in regaining autonomy from public infrastructure. Microgrids offer the resilience, cost savings, and sustainability needed for consumers of all types to take control of their energy needs.

The Current State of Utilities

Over the past several decades, utility companies in the U.S. have operated as monopolies while mismanaging the maintenance of their power grids and lines. Corporations often prioritize profits over consumer protection or innovation. As a result, consumers are footing the bill to fund overdue infrastructure updates. While some lines are being updated, others remain faulty or continue to be utilized beyond their mean life expectancy of 65 years. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, a California public utilities company has long been aware that its transmission system was long overdue for maintenance.

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Decreased profit margins have also led some utility companies to penalize customers who choose to incorporate solar power into their energy system. By moving tariff and utility rates and shifting peak demand times the utilities devalue solar to meet their own agenda. This leaves consumers believing that they have little to no choice when it comes to their energy consumption. However, things are starting to turn around with some utility companies participating in rebate or incentive programs across federal and state levels to encourage demand reduction and energy efficiency in the residential sector. Meanwhile new and increasingly cost-effective microgrid technology provides alternatives which enable users to optimize their energy costs through solar, storage, generators or other renewable energy investment.

The Power Shift to Prosumerism

Every year, we see an increasing shift from passive consumerism to prosumerism. The prosumer phenomenon is characterized by actors who create a balance, becoming both producers and consumers of power. “Before the exploitation of the social networks, consumers were only considered a consumption mass by the firms. There was no communication between firm and client.” Thanks to social media providing a direct channel of communication to large corporations, customers can expect collaboration between them (the end user) and the firms they support. Prosumers have unique motivations for doing so, but it ultimately comes down to individual values and needs.

Microgrid energy storage is an example of how the shift to prosumerism can play a role in energy efficiency. A researcher at Missouri University of Science and Technology developed a model involving a microgrid, consumers, prosumers who utilize renewable energy, and a utility that provides backup. Any excess power generated by the prosumers could be sold to other members of the community. “The utility maintains the grid that delivers power, but energy is generated, stored, and traded by members of the community using blockchain technology.”

A Better Solution: Providing Renewable Power Storage

There are a variety of reasons why the fight for autonomy from the public infrastructure continues to excel. Power storage added to microgrid energy systems is often the missing link to creating resiliency and independence. The Office of Electricity says enhanced energy storage offers multiple benefits to both the power industry and its customers including improved energy quality and reliability; more stable distribution systems; cost reductions; and increased value of renewable energy generation.

Overall, utilities are now being held to higher efficiency and transparency standards – as is the case with most large corporations. Fighting this change will prove to be futile as the consumer is expected to win in the end. As the conversation shifts from solar to storage, the reality is that the two must work collaboratively. If they don’t, both will lose to utility companies who won’t allow the storage of power for cheap use. The good news is that the pairing of solar plus storage in microgrids is becoming preeminent throughout the renewable energy sector offering benefits to parties on both sides of the meter. A win-win situation!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 26, 2021

As the conversation shifts from solar to storage, utilities must work collaboratively with their customers. If they do not, both the customer and the utilities will lose. 

Is there a threat that customers will go out and implement solar+storage on their own whether or not the utility decides to be a key partner in that? 

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