Three years ago, I wrote about the importance of smart electricity microgrids in Brave New War as platforms for networked resilient communities. As a reminder, here's a short synopsis of what a microgrid is (the "smarts" are computer controls and data that allow people to see and manage the generation and use of electricity down to the device level through a simple Web interface):
Microgrids are modern, small-scale versions of the centralized electricity system. They achieve specific local goals, such as reliability, carbon emission reduction, diversification of energy sources, and cost reduction, established by the community being served. Like the bulk power grid, smart microgrids generate, distribute, and regulate the flow of electricity to consumers, but do so locally. Smart microgrids are an ideal way to integrate renewable resources on the community level and allow for customer participation in the electricity enterprise.
At the time when I first wrote about it, most of the interest in the topic was academic, and almost all of the implementations were very, very basic in design (hospitals and military bases, etc.). What a difference three years makes. Smart microgrids are now going mainstream with multiple software start-ups and big efforts underway at Siemens and Cisco. Given this pace of expansion, I suspect that this bottoms up approach will vastly outstrip and eventually curtail any efforts to build smarts into the larger utility grids (which is estimated to cost $165 b in the US alone, money that doesn't exist). Also, with this level of interest, open source efforts are sure to follow.
So what does this meant to those of building resilient communities? Smart microgrids are a platform that can be built upon. For example:
- It supports the development of a vibrant local market or ecosystem of power producers at the small business or household level.
- It enables communities to build in back-up systems that can keep them operational even when the rest of grid goes dark/down.
- It provides a way for innovations to reach end users immediately and new synergistic opportunities when combined with other local systems.
So, let me boil it down for you. If you have found a community that you want to live in for the long haul, get them to explore the installation of a smart microgrid.