What Are Microgrids?

In the wake of extensive electrical outages from various hurricanes and storms, including Hurricane Sandy, the state of Connecticut set aside $15 million bond funding for a pilot program that encourages towns and communities to develop microgrids. Microgrids are self-sustained electrical networks that have their own power generating sources and can be isolated, or “islanded” from the transmission network during electrical outages. I recently wrote about microgrids for Scientific American blog network, and how they may be the bridge to energy security. Unfortunately, the Connecticut experiment may fizzle instead of providing a new roadmap for microgrid deployment. Apparently, many CT communities are passing on applying for funding because of time constraints in putting together a viable proposal. Complicating factors include the maze of regulations and legal hurdles that would accompany a community-based microgrid. The technology choices are also overwhelming – and complex – something that typical municipalities would have little knowledge about. The Connecticut program may not pan out to be a model state program, but it can provide valuable lessons learned for future policies. For example, while a one-size-fits-all approach is ill-conceived for microgrids because of site- and use-specific factors, expert guidance, technology standards, and removal of regulatory hurdles is sorely needed at the state level. This is a wake up call for states to seriously pursue the disincentives for microgrids and educate the general public.