NEWS: Blockchain Microgrid; Cities Go EV Shopping; Fortune Tells Offshore Wind Tale

Posted by Lexie Briggs on Mar 17, 2017 1:04:43 PM

Lightning In A Bottle Trilogy by Simon & His Camera.jpg

Small batch, local electricity? Photo by Simon Syon.

This week, advanced energy goes mainstream! From an article in the New York Times about a solar microgrid in Brooklyn with a unique payment scheme, to cities across the country shopping for electrified fleet vehicles, to American offshore wind becoming more of the norm, this week’s news was full of commonplace advanced energy becoming more, well, commonplace. Read on for all that, plus a healthy dose of AEE member news.This week, Diane Cardwell at the New York Times covered a small but growing trend we’ve been tracking for months: community solar powered by blockchain technology. Blockchain is one of the most important aspects of bitcoin currency: essentially, it’s an unimpeachable ledger keeping track of everywhere the bitcoin has been. As I wrote back in December, imagine if, a website devoted to tracking dollar bills, were compulsory, with each transaction recorded on the dollar bill itself. Each bitcoin has a complete record of its transactional lineage embedded like a DNA marker.

This system can allow for a lot of transactions that don’t work so well in the world of dollars and cents. The Brooklyn Microgrid is using a virtual trading platform that a community can use to exchange electricity credits. Essentially, a family with solar panels on their roof and not a lot of electricity use can trade the electricity they generate with the business down the block, peer-to-peer.

Or, as the Times puts it, electricity that’s “small batch and local.” No, seriously: “Brooklyn is known the world over for things small-batch and local, like designer clogs, craft bourbon and artisanal sauerkraut,” writes Cardwell. “Now, it is trying to add electricity to the list.”

Although this peer-to-peer sharing circumnavigates the traditional utility business model, utilities themselves are using similar principles to create “virtual” power plants. You can read more about that in our new Advanced Energy Now 2017 Market Report.

From an Empire State of Mind to cities across the United States: This week Bloomberg reports that 30 cities across the United States, including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, jointly asked American automakers to provide figures outlining the cost and logistics of providing a fleet of EVs for city use all over the country, 114,000 in total. The effort, which is being spearheaded by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, is to assess the feasibility of EVs for police cruisers, street sweepers, and trash trucks. Though no city is placing an order just yet, this kind of request for information is typically the first step in a formal procurement process.

The piece in Bloomberg initially positions this as a measure of defiance against the Trump administration, which has signaled that it would review, and possibly roll back, vehicle efficiency standards. While “Cities vs. President in an EV Battle Royale” is a compelling narrative, it’s far from the full story. First, the effort dates back to 2015, during the run up to the Paris climate talks. Second, the benefits of electrifying a fleet of city vehicles are far greater than making any political point: the low and predictable operating costs of electric vehicles allows are good for city budgets.

Meanwhile, Fortune Magazine has a great write-up of the developing offshore wind market, including the previously untold drama behind the final hours of the Block Island wind farm. Right as the project was nearing completion, and right before a major deadline, a whale decided to come see what all the commotion was about:

It was a brisk Sunday morning in October 2015, and Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski’s cell phone buzzed. His construction manager, who was driving piles 200 feet beneath the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, three miles from Block Island, R.I., said he had to halt work on the company’s wind farm because a humpback whale had meandered near the site. Under the Endangered Species Act, it’s illegal for humans to “harass” certain marine mammals, and loudly pounding steel into the ocean floor would certainly qualify.

Worse, from Grybowski’s perspective, the law permits driving in piles only during certain months, when the whales aren’t migrating to the area. Bad weather was moving in, and if his team didn’t finish the project that day, Grybowski would have to wait another six months before the feds would allow him to sink in the final post for the five giant wind turbines that would provide the island’s power. That meant millions in losses and a disaster for his small company. Recalls Grybowski: “It was a nail-biting moment. We had no way of knowing when the whale would stop hanging out.” 

The article goes on to outline the virtually untapped potential for offshore wind and what projects we can expect to see next. It’s a fun read, and a good one to share with friends and neighbors.

Finally, in member news, Sunnova, based in Houston, has partnered with U.S. Bank to receive $80 million in tax equity funding. These funds will be used to finance more than $200 million in residential solar projects in Texas, where solar is becoming the new wind. Everything’s bigger in Texas!

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Topics: News Update