Maryland Clean Energy Center: Industry needs to be aggressive about microgrids, consumer education

Building small systems that are a combination of renewable energy, energy storage, energy management technologies and educating consumers that they can build such systems in their own homes is “really something that I think we need to be much more aggressive about,” according to I. Katherine Magruder, executive director of the Maryland Clean Energy Center.

“I’m interested to see what Connecticut is doing in light of the natural disasters that [it] had to respond to,” she told TransmissionHub on Oct. 16 during the Maryland Clean Energy Summit that the center hosted at University of Maryland University College in Prince George’s County, Md. “I think that it’s a tremendous example for all of us to see.”

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy in August gathered with state and local officials, including White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, to highlight the state’s progress to mitigate the impact of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“As we see increasingly severe weather and other impacts of climate change, it becomes even more important to harden our infrastructure as we make investments to reduce global warming emissions,” Malloy said in his Aug. 14 statement. “This Parkville microgrid project will help Hartford provide services the community urgently needs during widespread power outages.”

The Parkville Neighborhood Microgrid project is one of nine microgrid projects in Connecticut awarded a total of $18m in funding, primarily through the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Microgrid Pilot Program, which is designed to find innovative ways to keep facilities such as police, fire and medical centers powered during electric grid outages. The statement further noted that the program will increase safety and quality of life for Connecticut residents during extreme weather events.

“When you are sitting there in the dark during a storm without power and your sump pump is going out and you know that your basement is going to flood, it becomes crystal clear why you need to take responsibility for your energy,” Magruder said. “But when everything is running smoothly, you don’t really have that same motivation” so building those small systems is key.

Malloy made it a priority to lead by example with the microgrid models in small communities throughout Connecticut “so in the event of another disaster, [those] communities are more prepared to manage than being just stuck without power,” she said.

During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, an “eye-opening experience” was seeing emergency responders unable to charge their cell phones or walkie-talkies due to power outages and had to charge such devices in cars that had working batteries, for instance, she said.

“We want to not be in the position to do that as a country,” she said. “We want to be able to say in the event of a real-time disaster, our sewer systems are still going to work, our emergency responders are still going to be able to function [and] as a community, we’re not going to go under for long before we’re able to survive.”

That takes vision, leadership and planning, Magruder said, adding that community planners and elected officials, including governors and higher-ranking officials, need to be engaged.

In Connecticut, the state’s efforts created an entire industry sector, setting up job opportunities, she said, adding, “[W]e have to look at the utilities and say, could you lead this?”

Renewable energy benefits to the grid

Magruder also discussed renewable energy, noting that one benefit that such energy resources bring to the power grid is helping to reduce energy production costs during peak demand times.

Still, while solar power is beneficial for the peak demand for cooling systems in the summer, “the sun doesn’t shine at night, so that, coupled with energy storage is a good opportunity,” she said. “So, how do we facilitate making sure that investment in energy storage is incentivized? I see the parts of the puzzle separately, but when you put them all together in the right way, with planning and foresight and public buy-in, I think we all end up in a better place in terms of energy security.”

Regulation drives the market, Magruder said, noting that the establishment of a legislated goal to have a certain percentage of power in the state come from renewable sources drives investment.

“[W]e need to look at energy storage, specifically, and finding ways to incentivize that, whether it’s investment tax credits” or taking other action at the state regulatory or legislative level.

The Maryland General Assembly earlier this year passed the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013, creating a “carve-out” for energy derived from offshore wind in the state renewable portfolio standard, beginning in 2017 and extending beyond 2022.

Magruder said, “[T]he prediction is that wind will be the biggest chunk of energy generation from alternative sources in the future, so Maryland is well positioned to take advantage of that by putting in place the regulatory framework to adopt that new technology as we install it.”

Since Maryland is “a deregulated state, you have the opportunity to choose the type of power you buy, the fuel mix that you buy and the cost that you pay for that fuel mix if you’re willing to shop for it,” she said.

One of the things that the Maryland Clean Energy Center would like to see improved “for the state and for consumers is making it easy to do that shopping, so that you’re not only aware of what you’re buying and how much it costs, but you’re actively and purposefully choosing the portion of energy that you buy that comes from renewables, for example,” she said. “If you’re comfortable investing in a natural gas future, that’s your choice, but building energy literacy with consumers, I think, is the most important thing that we can do.”

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3160 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 15 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.