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Energy

Microgrids

This is the Solar Settlement in Freiburg, Germany. A 59-home community, it is the first in the world to have a positive energy balance, with each home producing $5,600 per year in solar energy profits. The way to positive energy is designing homes that are extraordinarily energy efficient, what designer Rolf Disch calls PlusEnergy.

The “macro” grid is a massive electrical network of energy sources. It connects utilities, large fossil-fuel plants, small fossil-fuel plants used to meet peaks in demand, and 24-7 control centers monitoring supply. This centralized setup hinders society’s transition from dirty energy produced in a few places to clean energy produced everywhere.

Enter microgrids. A microgrid is a localized grouping of distributed energy sources, like solar, wind, in-stream hydro, and biomass, together with energy storage or backup generation and load management tools. This system can operate as a stand-alone entity or its users can plug into the larger grid as needed.

Microgrids are nimble, efficient microcosms of the big grid, designed for smaller, diverse energy sources. The use of local supply to serve local demand makes them more resilient and reduces energy lost in transmission and distribution.

Microgrids also aid human and economic development. Globally, 1.1 billion people do not have access to a grid or electricity, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In rural parts of low-income countries, populations are best supplied with electricity from microgrids.

References

outages or blackouts…economic losses: Saviva Research. “Microgrids and Distributed Energy Resource Management Software.” Saviva Research Review. April 2013.

blackouts [becoming] more frequent: Matthewman, Steve and Hugh Byrd. “Blackouts: A Sociology of Electrical Power Failure.” Social Space (2014): 1-25.

1.1 billion people [without] electricity: IEA and World Bank. Sustainable Energy for All 2015—Progress Toward Sustainable Energy. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2015.

[effective in] rural parts of Asia and Africa: IEA. World Energy Outlook 2010. Paris: International Energy Agency, 2010.

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