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The Brooklyn Microgrid is the Key to Sustainable Energy

Posted May 8, 2017

Peer-to-peer is the future of business.

Airbnb has revolutionized the short-term rental market, ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber have forever changed the cab industry, and the Brooklyn Microgrid is our first look at how tomorrow’s sustainable energy will be bought and sold on a proprietary network connecting any building with a power-generating solar array.

Brooklyn has never been a neighborhood to back down from a challenge, and when it comes to energy, New York needs all it can get. That’s why denizens of Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal and Park Slope communities are pushing the envelope of power infrastructure to find a solution to our planet’s growing energy demands.

Big Dreams Start Small

LO3’s TransActive Grid is the technology behind this innovative community of power producers, and while Brooklyn’s installation is one of the largest in the United States, similar systems are popping up all around the world in places like Finland, Germany and Australia.

If the idea reminds you of something Elon Musk’s electric car and innovation company Tesla would put forward, that’s because Tesla proposed such a community power grid when it introduced its Powerwall battery unit in 2015. But while Musk could suggest such a system in concept, Brooklyn’s residents have made it a reality using sunlight-collecting solar panels.

A New Way to Buy and Sell Energy

Every participant in the current microgrid produces energy, which means that every participant can both buy and sell energy. But it is foreseeable that such a system could exist with users who only purchase and do not produce power.

Power credits are available for those who have excess production capacity to sell on a virtual marketplace, and transactions are performed using the Blockchain technology that already powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

The system is to some extent an evolution of the solar industry’s popular volume-discount products known as solar co-ops, in which a community that can benefit from the installation of solar panels invests in a system at a reduced rate.

The Challenges of Going Off-Grid

The system in Gowanus is built in such a way that microgrid users can still purchase power from major utilities, but future systems would ideally be built to stand entirely on their own.

This is no small task. Support from the well-established power grid allows Brooklyn microgrid users a fallback plan in case of things like natural disasters. Currently, the Brooklyn system could be rendered completely non-functional by a single large storm. Larger future systems would hypothetically have increased redundancy and more power producers to mitigate such risks.

Bringing Power to the Third-World

While Brooklyn’s experimental system represents a crucial step for renewable energy infrastructure in the US, it’s out-of-the-way places where such technology has really found space to grow.

Unlike American markets that suffer from the complex dynamics of integrating with the existing power grid, standalone systems and innovative financing techniques are defining a new power infrastructure in rural Africa, with backing from major players in the energy industry such as SunEdison and SolarCity.

Not only does the change to solar power deliver previously unavailable luxuries in such remote places, it can transform the lives of inhabitants who previously relied on combustible fuels like kerosene. Solar generated power is both cheaper and comes with none of the health issues of the fuels it replaces.

Regulating Power Prices

It’s only a matter of time until more microgrids like Brooklyn’s spring up. There is one last matter to settle before the reality of going completely off-grid can come about: regulating the cost of energy.

Blockchain provides a means of trading, but at what rates? The closer to the source one is, the less energy is lost in transmission. As of now, off-grid users would likely need to pay a premium to move their power through utility-owned lines.

Further development of the marketplace technology and new laws to ensure that power is fairly traded will be the next steps toward a revolution in energy. The future isn’t there yet, but it’s not far off.

Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes

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