Whenever I am driving in a city, I look at the shopping malls, office buildings and residential streets and say to myself: Each of these I can convert into microgrids. Each of these I can take “off-grid,” either in one shot or in phases.

How would I do this?

Step One:

Assuming there is variable pricing (and even when there is not), I would chop off the peak load using solar plus batteries. This would yield immediate cost savings (in the case of variable pricing) upfront capital costs, in part, substitute for monthly costs.

If I can finance the capital investment, great. If the customer finances it, great. If I finance, I must be able to offer a lower overall bill to the end customer. It’s important to assume that the customer will not sign up and say, “yes” to my offer merely because it is cheaper. It has to be for reasons other than cost savings alone, or for significant cost savings.

What might constitute additional, value-added services? Or regulatory incentives, such as tax deductions or write offs, as part of the fight against global warming? A whole new industry is taking birth, with possibilities for innovation and employment growth.

Step Two:

I would progressively take the customer’s entire load off-grid as the economics of the solar plus battery solution improves. After all, the solution is value added silicon, that is, “sand on land” or “sand on roof.” Costs can be taken out.

Step Three:

If I am on customer premises, why shouldn’t I create a DC microgrid as overlay for lighting, electronics, and appliance charging, especially if I am in a new construction? I am surprised this is not sufficiently explored as a research project in a new housing development or building. The electricity load might not be high, and can surely be off-grid.

There are already power outlets with USB ports built into them. IKEA sells an adapter that, when inserted into a regular 110 v or 220 v wall outlet, gives us several USB ports. The only addition to this I propose is that the supply of power to these be DC. Inverters are not needed for this portion of the solution. After all, SHS (Solar Home Systems) in rural, emerging markets are just that. See Nancy Wimmer’s book on Bangladesh electrification.

Anyway we look at it, “local generation, local consumption” and local autonomous solution happens in phases. 30 apartments at a time? 20 standalone homes at a time? A strip mall at a time? An office building at a time? While the solution can be building by building, home by home, it is better to have a microgrid solution in steps of,  say, 0.5 MW at a time, and professionally managed by a local service provider – the new entrepreneur.

Before entrepreneurs (today’s solar installers, aided by sophisticated control and demand side management solutions, for instance) begin to erode the market this way, the incumbent utilities should get into the microgrids business, and simultaneously get into the broadband ISP business.

Broadband revenue stream complements the electricity revenue stream, and leverages the same poles and right of ways the electric utility already has.

An entrepreneur may deploy and manage several contiguous microgrids of different sizes with relative advantages among them. Some might have daytime peak loads, others with evening peak loads, some with one kind of generation, others with different kinds of generation.

Public policy can encourage this process. If we define and auction solar blocks, the transition can be systematic and faster. But that is another story, for a different article. The rapid spread of entrepreneurially led solutions is surely in the public interest.

What a counter-revolution these “lower barriers to entry” and “lower costs per unit of electricity produced without scale economics” in electricity have wrought, or soon will…

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