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Microgrid Milestones

Top 5 developments of 2013.
The author poses in front of a Bloom Energy Server installation at the fuel cell company's corporate HQ in Silicon Valley.

December 19, 2013: At this writing, 2013 is drawing to a close. Over the past year, several key industry trends emerged or became clearer. Among them, one topic arose in the industry’s collective consciousness more than any other: “microgrid.”

On the heels of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy – and amid rapid growth in distributed generation (DG), demand response (DR), and other distributed energy resources (DER) – the microgrid concept emerged as one of the most interesting trends of 2013.

Some people in the industry – including senior executives and regulators – think microgrids could be revolutionary. They might herald a new kind of industry architecture, ultimately supplanting the centralized utility grid with a new cellular topology. This idea might not be as crazy as it sounds, with some compelling evolutionary trends in that direction. However, many people are more skeptical about microgrids, acknowledging prospects for sizeable growth in developing countries, but doubting microgrids will gain much traction in the U.S – or most of the developed world, for that matter, apart from certain customers who require highly resilient services.

At the same time, the various technologies that make microgrids work are definitely improving, in terms of performance and economics. Likewise, regulatory and business frameworks are starting to evolve in ways that support commercial projects, although they remain at a fairly nascent stage.

That brings us to the purpose of this article, which is to identify the five most important microgrid milestones of 2013. Important milestones still lie in the future, but the path forward certainly became clearer with these developments.

#5: Microgrid Institute Launched: I’m blatantly biased because I’m the one who launched it, so this can be seen as pure shameless promotion – and also full disclosure. But the fact of its existence is significant, irrespective of who’s involved. Indeed, others are pursuing related ideas, including (to name a few): the Perfect Power Institute, the Global Microgrid Center, the Energy Future Coalition, and a new advocacy group that just formed, called the Microgrid Resources Coalition  – through the offices of law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath.  In short, during 2013 many people began looking more carefully at microgrids, and new organizations formed to sustain such efforts. That’s a noteworthy milestone.

#4: Interconnection Standards Evolved: Ratification was still pending at the time of this writing, but IEEE proposed some important interim changes to its DG interconnection standards, with the expectation of a more complete overhaul effort beginning in 2014. The interim amendments provide ride-through provisions for grid-tied DG, and clarify standards for intentional islanding. Also the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is amending its guidelines for Small Generator Interconnection Procedures (SGIP) and Agreements (SGIA) to accommodate DG growth and microgrids. Both sets of standards provide models for many states’ small generator interconnection policies, and their updates will help microgrids and other islanding DG systems connect safely and affordably. The next step will be standards that serve more comprehensive system integration and control, so DERs can serve grid efficiency and reliability, rather than detract from it.

#3: States Took Action: Several states either began