As our society consumes more and more energy to drive innovation and growth, the topics of resiliency and adaptation have become major talking points as we look to move beyond our nation’s outdated electricity system. The key to resiliency is having the ability and resources to adapt to the unknown, but resiliency can mean so many things to so many people.
The dictionary definition of resiliency is, “the power or ability to return to the original form, the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, etc.” When we think about resiliency and supplying power to our homes and businesses, we typically think about what happens when the power goes out and what we can do to avoid this inconvenience. While this is very important, there is so much more to consider. We should be thinking about how much the power we use is worth and how much control we have over its cost, among other things.
Additionally, the reliability of our 100-year-old-plus grid comes into question every day, particularly given the increase in the frequency and severity of climate-related natural disasters. Although new, clean energy resources like wind and solar continue to come online every day, these forms of generation have their limitations. With hydroelectricity, you need access to a steady source of water. Similarly, you need a breeze or a sunny day to utilize wind or solar resources respectively. For these reasons, the future of energy needs to be supplied from multiple distributed resources all working together to meet our energy needs.
As distributed generation becomes the mainstream and energy storage is added to create microgrids and additional revenue streams for businesses, the days of relying on an outdated power infrastructure will be a thing of the past. Will your current utility company remain once the transition is underway? Will they try and reinvent themselves as cable TV providers have? Or will contemporary utilities become obsolete in a distributed economy? Time will tell.
For over a century, utilities have had virtually no competition for a service that is integral to nearly every facet of our civilization. Now, consumers have more choices than ever before when it comes to how they source their electricity, causing the utilities to scramble to try and figure out a way to compete for business and ultimately survive a constantly changing energy landscape.
Unfortunately, one solution utilities are using is more creative rate structures that ultimately benefit their bottom lines at the ratepayers’ expense. What used to be one line on your electric bill can now be 6 or more lines for different fees, rates, programs, etc. Our electric bills and the overall cost of electricity go up, but yet the energy mixture, infrastructure, and the system at large remain static. Something needs to be done.
Thankfully, the age of distributed generation and self-consumption is here. It’s cheaper for the consumer and is the ultimate form of resiliency we need as we head into an uncertain future. You simply need one or more sources of generation (usually solar) and a means of storing energy for when you need it most. Consumers now have the opportunity to take control of their energy future by installing solar PV and batteries to create their own microgrid wherein they can generate, store, and sell their power whenever they see fit. It’s added peace of mind for home and business owners looking to keep their power on in the face of the unforeseen. It’s satisfaction and security knowing where you’ll get your electricity and how much you will pay—free of any surprise utility costs.
Currently, numerous states are looking for ways to incorporate battery storage into their overall master plan for energy resources. Massachusetts recently added storage to their 3-year energy efficiency plan. Studies of the MA program show the financial benefits of adding battery storage by reducing loads at critical times. This will lead to grants, rebates, and other incentives which are either currently available, or they will be in the near future to help offset the initial cost of building a storage infrastructure. In MA, there are currently programs paying consumers to reduce their loads or discharge their batteries at specific times. This will provide more resiliency for the utility companies, save money by reducing the peak power generation time, and put some money back in the pockets of consumers.
To sum it up, the key to a more resilient power system is battery storage and distributed generation. This will benefit both the utility companies and consumers. Time will tell on the new role for the local utility company. We are seeing a historic evolution that will take several more years to replace the current energy infrastructure with a distributed network of microgrids. It’s both amazing to see the progression and exciting to anticipate what comes next.