Microgrids: Breaking Dependence from Energy Monopolies

If growing up in Maryland taught me one thing it is that blackouts happen all the time. While Maryland may be one of the lesser appreciated states (for reasons I have never quite understood–afterall, we are the home of the Pig Woman of Cecil County), it is by no means a place you would expect to have frequent blackouts.

As a kid, I remember thunderstorms would cause outages in the summer, and blizzards would cause them in the winter. Outages that would last hours, if not days, at a time.

Photo courtesy of Mylius

My parents–seeing as they were the adults in the situation–would call our area electricity provider, Pepco, asking when the power would be switched back on. At the time I was confused as to why my parents were calling the pet store to ask about electricity  (I would learn in my later years that Pepco and Petco are different companies).

I now know that hamsters on wheels aren’t powering my house.

Since my more naive years, I have grown to resent Pepco (as have many Maryland residents).

My state’s dependence on Pepco for power sparked an interesting–and oh-so controversial–comparison in my mind. What could the state of California have done to save itself from the ulterior motives and energy monopoly of Enron during the early-2000s?*

Enron illegally shut down pipelines that fed into California as a mean of manipulating the market price of power. The people of California were forced to comply because Enron was the only game in town.

During Enron’s trials in 2005 there were $2 billion refund demands brought forth against the company on the grounds of conspiracy.

Photo courtesy of U.S. National Archives

Granted, Pepco is by no means some evil corporation that is robbing the kindly citizens of Maryland of their hard earned money, but a valuable lesson from California’s dependence on Enron energy can be applied to my state’s energy situation.

As a part of a recent video project I met with Dr. Shalom Flank, the Chief Technical Officer and Architect of Pareto Energy.

Pareto is a start-up company based out of Washington, D.C. that has one concern–making communities responsible for their own energy.

Microgrid: Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

How do they propose to help communities self govern their energy? By installing microgrids.

A microgrid is a system that allows small clusters of energy users–for example, a neighborhood or college campus–to take energy from various suppliers for electric power. The microgrid works autonomously from the main power grid (in my case, Pepco) and can take energy from an array of different sources–such as wind turbines, hydroelectric stations, and solar panels.

Dr. Flank explained to me that microgrids were the solution to dependence on energy monopolies. That they are they way of the future for energy consumption.

Despite the promise of the technology, microgrids are, for the moment, uncommon, mainly because they are under promoted and require a hefty upfront investment.

While the initial cost may be great, living off a microgrid is undoubtedly a more efficient way of consuming energy. It is less expensive in the long run, it is more reliable than larger electricity providers, and–most importantly–it provides a cleaner source of electric power.

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*By no means am I accusing Pepco of being a corrupt company. I am simply using Maryland’s energy dependence as a comparable example to California’s energy dependence on Enron.

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One thought on “Microgrids: Breaking Dependence from Energy Monopolies

  1. Hi Ethan,

    You need to introduce the topic of microgrids a bit sooner. I thought your post was about how much you hate Pepco until 2/3 of the way through. Although I love your voice and story here, you could cut down on the Pepco rant here because it is not your actual topic. Overall I like your writing style. Work on how you structure your posts. The hyperlinks are good and I like the photos (though you don’t need the hamster).

    Best,

    Melissa

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