Community Microgrids

This site focuses on Living Energies for Community Microgrids (CMGs).  This includes energy permaculture and renewable energy supply, along with appropriate +sustainable technology demands.

CMGs are a decentralized network of integrated energy sources that are distributed, developed and operated by local community members for the benefit of the local community only.  A CMG provides local jobs along with a reliable and resilient energy infrastructure.  A CMG’s energy source can range from 100% local renewables to a variety of other sustainable energy sources.

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There are over a dozen proven + viable renewable energy sources that are available to most communities within a 5km radius (zone). Solar (thermal + PV), wind, microhydro, geothermal, and bio-mass/fuel/gas renewable energy resources are plentiful in just about all USA locations.

There are hundreds of these microgrid communities around the world.  In the USA, many people have lived in off-grid solar+ homes and know the great reliability, resilience and lo-cost of stand-alone energy systems for decades without sacrificing their own comforts. They do not buy into the utility + energy industry wrong-speak of bigger is better.

On this web page you will find information + resources about energy permacuolture, community microgrids and how to learn more.  Information on WinSol3: a stand-alone, self-reliant home and learning center, can be found under Tab4.

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Post-script: energy lessons from Hurricane Sandy:

Our centralized and monolithic utility grid is fast outliving its usefulness.  Hurricane Sandy (NE USA in 2012) proved the folly of our current energy supply system.  We need a new model.  Local utility districts were able to restore power (after Sandy) within days instead of weeks, because they were smaller and local.  With small, decentralized community microgrids – perhaps the power never has to go off in the first place.

We see some people in the Northeast looking to install ‘permanent generators’, and most generator manufacturing companies now have installation orders to last them for the next 3+ years.  This is sheer folly!  Diesel or fuel generators require maintenance, costly fuel and are not as reliable in the residential sector.

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Like a forest, drawing it’s energy from the surrounding air + soil, a community microgrid draws all its energy from its local surroundings.  Subtely, effectively and continually replenishing itself: like an energy farm, a community garden, or a forest.

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A community microgrid (CMG) is a new model of energy supply and distribution that stands in contrast to the existing 100+ year-old centralized, monolithic utility grid model.

In the words of Bucky Fuller[1]:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

CMGs (Community  MicroGrids) are for local neighborhoods, they are like energy farms.  CMGs are about tapping into, distributing, and using 100% locally (within 5km) produced renewable energy using only local labor and materials.

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Definition of CMG

A community microgrid (CMG) is a decentralized network of integrated energy sources that are distributed, developed and operated by local community members. It  is stand-alone, small, and based on 100% renewable supplies that are distributed only to local community residences and businesses. CMGs are an essential part of community self-reliance.

  • CMGs are connected to other similar CMGs within adjacent communities.  CMGs are not tied to the main utility grid, they are stand-alone.
  • CMGs use local sustainable natural resources to provide 100% of their energy needs, and rely minimally (<20%) on solar PV.
  • CMGs provide 6sigma reliability and have safety as their primary objective.
  • CMGs are developed, owned and maintained 100% by local citizenry.
  • CMGs monitor and heal themselves.

A CMG’s goal is to achieve an active and balanced state of harmony with its surrounding natural community (no more than 5km). It takes only the resources it needs (not wants) for it’s own sustenance.  And no more.  It establishes an ongoing give and take with its surrounding natural resources.  It operates its natural resources like a natural currency: continually balancing and never taking more than it can  continually replenish.  A CMG’s sustainability goals must also include a light footprint and must be part of a system.

CMGs are integrated into a whole systems process. All components of its energy system are inter-related.  It is ideal to convert 100% of each available energy BTU to 100% useful energy work on behalf of the community. A best practice here can be found within California’s Carbon Fuel Standard program and methodology.[2]

Additionally, whole systems processes require that all players are at the table during the beginning of the CMG planning process. Collaboration between energy users and energy producers must be direct and ongoing. Various groups need to work together to solve problems.

Instead of just reducing our energy consumption and using renewable energy, we need to rethink how we produce and distribute energy.  The centralized, monopolistic energy utility model has outlived its usefulness.  Small, interconnected, smart community microgrids provide solutions to many of the issues that plague our current centralized energy production: transmission losses, effective and local smart control, storage, and above all providing local jobs and supporting a local economy while using natural resources in a sustainable manner.

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Most definitions of ‘microgrids’ are legacy definitions.  Kinda like putting new technology over old cow paths.  Our electrical and energy infrastructure was designed (mostly by accident) and put in place over 100 years ago.  It is outdated at its core.  The only problem is it’s assets are valued at over $3trillion and lots (I mean LOTS) of people make LOTS of money off these assets. This model of a monopolistic, oligarchy style utility/government/industry no longer work within our post-industrial society, networked and highly empowered society. We need new energy infrastructure.

 Like a home gardener who has discovered permaculture and all its wonders by nudging nature to work, we need a permaculture-based energy system. We need a community-based independent energy microgrid based on 100% renewables.  Call it ‘energy permaculture’.

The mainstream microgrid industry is a large booming BIG business, dominated by energy giants. Yet, the USA has 74% of the global microgrid market.  Why?  most of these microgrids are in the industrial/commercial and Institutional/campus sectors and use diesel or natural gas-powered co-generation system for a majority of their electrical energy.  This is a result of access to cheap natural gas and a desire to control their own energy pricing and reliability.  This stands in contrast to community based microgrids. CMGs use only their own renewable energy resources (within 5km) and distribute it only within their own communities, often at efficiencies above 70-80%.

So let’s get started on reviewing these new smaller microgrids.

First, a few basic terminologies.

 Mainstream Acronyms + Terminology:

  •  AC, DC = Alternating Current,  Direct Current
  • CERTS = Consortium for Electrical Reliability
  • CHP = Combined Heat and Power
  • Co/Tri-gen = Cogeneration/Trigen (Heat/Cool + Electricity)
  • DER = Distributed Energy Resources
  • DPS = Distributed Power Systems
  • DUPS = Distributed Uninterruptable Power Supply
  • IEEE = Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers
  • PQR = Power Quality + Reliability
  • PV = Photovoltaics
  • RE = Renewable Energy
  • T+D = Transmission and Distribution
  • UEC = Uniform Electrical Code
  • UPS = Uninterruptable Power Supply
  • VSI = Voltage Source Inverters

 Clarifications + CMG Approach

 Most microgrid discussions are about electricity only.  A few add natural gas for heating (but mostly from co-gen), and very few talk about multiple, integrated energy sources.  They talk about tying into the main grid and working with the utilities and governmental regulators. This is NOT the case for small, island type microgrids, which are built as stand-alone systems.

For mainstream microgrids it’s usually from the ‘top-down’.  All my discussions on CMGs will be from the ground up: from a local community’s individual citizenry platform and up.  Some people call this an organic or grass roots approach.

 Top-down microgrids won’t work

Working from the ‘top-down’ is a non-starter.  We’ve tried it for over 35 years, and what has it gotten us?  I dare predict another ‘energy’ related disaster will occur within the next 12months.  Whether it’s a soft or hard accident is immaterial.  We are holding onto a thin thread that has hundred pound gorillas doing wire acts.

This is your community’s current energy provider:  An oil tanker that holds up to 3,000,000 barrels of oil.  This and it’s associated pipelines for transporting oil + gas, provide most of your electrical needs, all your transportation energy, and place the products in your store.  How sustainable is this?  When will we have the next mega-leak/explosion?

Energy Distributor, 3 million barrels, 380 meters long

There are inherent inefficiencies in our grid system for which we are all paying and helping continue an outdated, monopolistic energy system.  Bottom line: we are only getting 20-30% of the electrical energy out of our plugs, but paying for 100% of its generation!

I will NOT be discussing this ‘top-down’ microgrid approach.  There are many organizations pursuing this microgrid approach.

 Instead, we need to work from a grass-roots level.  We need to work from the bottom up.  This is where CMG is positioned.

 

* The use of the word ‘small’ in this definition is just that.  Mainstream microgrids are massive: 100’s of megawatts.  This is an inappropriate application of the word ‘micro’.  The scale of CMGs should be on the order of 100′s of kilowatts not megawatts.  With smart meters, smart controllers, and the upcoming energy internet; these CMG’s are easily interconnected to provide diverse, reliabile and steady supply of locally produced 100% renewable energy.  These energies can range from local biomass gasification (woodlands), geothermal (ground loops), solar thermal, solar PV, wind, small hydro, etc.  These CMGs can heal themselves by continually monitoring their own status and adjusting to variable loads, demands and potential faults. Yes, it is possible NOW.  The technology and innovations are there, we just need to DO IT!

 It doesn’t get any greener or more sustainable than this.

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Download pdf on FHS Kufstein/Austria Conference Paper:

Energy Commons Position Paper 1

 Call to Action

Let’s create a community independent energy microgrid within YOUR community  Let’s start with one house, one block.  First one, then two, then many more.

Look around you.  There’s plenty of energy available right now.  Current solar income (C2C principle) , gravity, geothermal, wind, biomass, etc.  All energy sources are available to be used appropriately with smart, hi-tech controls + equalizers, etc.;  enabling a community to use and distribute it’s own local renewable resources to provide it’s citizenry 100% of its energy needs.

It won’t be easy.  It’s a tall order. You can start today. Start by measuring your daily watts.

Where to start:  Watts per person per day

We use  11,500+ watts/person/day (on average).   A big part of the success for CMGs will be to reduce this energy demand profile.  We need to get down around 3-5,000 w/p/d to make CMGs work.

To read more about this, please refer to the LCE (LoCost Energy) section of this web site.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

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There are many examples of working community microgrid systems.  Most of these are in 3rd world countries and in Europe.

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