By the time we left New York Energy Week 2015, we’d heard nearly every angle of the business case for microgrids—the “smart food” of the energy world—and how smart grid data sources and new ways to use data, will be a vital part of the changing landscape of energy generation and distribution in New York and beyond.
We also left more certain than ever that public outreach, customer engagement, and informed communication will be pivot points for successful implementation of this sea change in how we approach energy here in New York.
Every year since 2012, energy-sector luminaries gather in New York to talk about the future of energy. Established by Enerknol, the energy policy data and analytics innovator, and enthusiastically endorsed by Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, the annual four-day event hits the notes on the most innovative thinking in the energy sector, and this year was no disappointment. The pervasive theme was microgrids—and the subtext was data—how data will be collected, shared, and protected, to feed data-driven technologies to make energy more available, affordable, and accessible in New York.
Heady stuff for sure and more than a little geeky, but from our public outreach perch, the communications challenge to energy agencies, utilities, and companies is daunting. To move these new ideas into use, the energy community will need to understand what business, residential, and municipal customers can and will afford, and it will need to advance engaging, plain-language outreach to help customers understand why and how they should buy in on these new concepts, and move them to act.
The faster communities embrace and invest in microgrids, the quicker they will start to realize the benefits. Turns out Hoboken, NJ, has become a go-to model for urban resource resilience with their waterfront community’s commitment to smart grid technology—Mayor Dawn Zimmer explained how microgrids are adding protections from outages such as those experienced in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
But it’s not just about system reliability during power outages.
Utilities are being asked to provide benefits that go far beyond their original compacts, benefits that include not just delivery of kWhs of electricity but services that are enabled by the sale of kWhs (e.g., efficiency audits, renewable options, storage, and innovation investment). In the new world of increasing demand, aging infrastructures, and expanding smart grids, microgrids, and residential renewables, resilience itself may become valued itself as a service on its own, like insurance.
With stakes this high, leaders are making energy-efficiency initiatives a priority. Ozgem Ornektekin, Deputy Commissioner of Energy Management, NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services, announced that the Big Apple has set a goal of reducing GHG emissions 80% by 2050. This is a big stretch—and a laudable one. It also represents a big opportunity for anyone who can help the City get there.
There’s no way to capture four days of new ideas, but one of our favorite soundbites was from Micah Kotch, director for the NY Prize microgrid competition managed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), who called microgrids the new kale. Good for you, but you need a recipe everyone will dig into.