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Microgrids: An alternative solution to aging transmission infrastructure?

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Christopher Neely's picture
Independent Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

  • Member since 2017
  • 725 items added with 352,845 views
  • Jul 1, 2021
  • 587 views

Utilities, generators, residents and transmission industry nerds rejoiced when Biden announced his plan to address the country's aging and outdated transmission lines with massive investment into new infrastructure. While necessary, transmission got more attention than an alternative solution to aging and lengthy transmission lines: microgrids. 

Microgrids are becoming major players in energy resilience. Pacific Gas & Electric, still living under the memory of last year's rolling blackouts during the summer heatwave, has bought into the microgrid solution, as have tribunal communities in the Golden State

It appears, too, that the Biden Administration might be hip to the technology, at least in an adjacent way. According to Microgrid Knowledge, some of the American Jobs Plan money, about $50 billion, is set aside to improve infrastructure resilience to communities vulnerable to natural disasters. 

"Some of that funding would increase spending for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program, a grant source some towns and cities plan to use for microgrid development," one article says. 

The transmission community has done well to lobby for a focus on its role in the energy ecosystem. This is good because we're not at the stage yet where we can expect to go wireless. But there is a path for us to use less wire, and microgrids can lead us down that path. 

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 1, 2021

"The transmission community has done well to lobby for a focus on its role in the energy ecosystem. This is good because we're not at the stage yet where we can expect to go wireless. But there is a path for us to use less wire, and microgrids can lead us down that path. "

Christopher, wireless transmission of power electricity, on any appreciable scale (other than charging your cellphone), is impossible for many reasons. It's not a question of technology, it's fundamental physics - like saying "we're not at the stage yet where we can expect to go backwards in time". The universe doesn't work that way.

And microgrids use more wire, not less. Today's transmission grids are the most efficient way to transmit electricity - the least wire for the most access. Microgrids served electricity to customers in the 1880s-90s, and for reasons grounded in fundamental physics, it was a disaster. It's a lesson already learned.

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