Microgrids as a Tool for Transformation

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Karl Rábago is excited about the future of microgrids. Beyond the provision of clean, reliable power, he sees microgrids as a valuable tool for transforming the existing energy system from the inside out.

For over 25 years, Karl has immersed himself in energy innovation, regulatory policies, and topics relating to clean energy. As the Executive Director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center, at the Pace University School of Law in White Plains, NY, he is an enthusiastic advocate of microgrids as beneficial components of an increasingly dynamic energy architecture.

Karl is recognized as an innovator in electric utility regulatory issues relating to clean energy services and technologies. He serves as Chair of the Board of the Center for Resource Solutions, a non-governmental organization that works to advance voluntary clean energy markets, and sits on the Board of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC). He also manages a successful consulting practice, Rábago Energy LLC.

We’re pleased to announce that Karl will present a keynote address at this year’s HOMER International Microgrid Conference, where he will join other industry leaders and policymakers in developing goals, financial models, and policy objectives that help drive the industry forward. Distributed Energy is producing the event. We hope that you will join us there.

We recently reached out to Mr. Rábago for his perspectives on microgrid policy development and industry momentum. We’re honored to share his insights here:

Distributed Energy (DE):  What is the most exciting microgrid project that you’ve learned about recently?

Karl Rábago (KR): Any microgrid on a school campus is the most exciting!  Universities, colleges, junior colleges, high schools, even middle and elementary schools. Not only are these facilities often “shelter-in-place” sites during severe weather events, but they are also central features of community life. We pay for these facilities through taxes, so savings accrue to our bottom-lines! 

It is important to note that in my view, we must never forget that for microgrids installed into the existing grid—my general frame of reference—the system will be operating in an interconnected mode most of the time. So it can provide grid support, serve as self-generation and energy management, and “democratize” the grid. 

DE: Are there specific technologies on the horizon that might be considered game-changers?

KR: I see microgrids as part of a Swiss cheese driver of utility sector transformation—driving change from the inside out. As a result, the extent to which distribution automation and management technologies improve to account for a much more dynamic grid and to take advantage of the benefits that microgrids can provide, the better. Inside the microgrid, storage, of course, and ubiquitous low-priced solar, along with autonomous energy management systems will all be a big part of creating the bubbles in the grid cheese.

DE:   Are there policy initiatives that are either holding microgrids back or are helping them advance?

KR: Utility ownership of everything and the explicit or implicit exercise of monopoly market power is a major issue. I have supported the shift of utilities from owners of everything to platform providers, but we really haven’t realized that vision. I am not sure we even have a good start on the transformation. I give good marks to efforts in California, and in New York, for trying to advance the change. But we are still way short on “the vision thing.” Our leaders have generally failed to excite us about the opportunities.

DE:   What do you see as the future of microgrids? What are the next steps in the technology’s evolution?

KR: I accept the proposition that microgrids are the only way to go for electric service expansion in developing markets. Every time they succeed in those settings, microgrids demonstrate themselves to be superior to the old central-station dominated model. But I see an even more exciting future for microgrids as a tool and vector for transforming the system from the inside out. So, the next steps are more integration of microgrids with utility democratization and community aggregation strategies. More microgrids for grid support as well as emergency services. More microgrids as customer empowerment platforms and launching pads for market animation.

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