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Perspective: How to Explain Microgrids to the End-User

Perspective: How to Explain Microgrids to the End-User

Recently, I’ve noticed an uptick in the interest level surrounding microgrids, undoubtedly driven in part by aggressive new state and local programs incentivizing the concept.

While I’m encouraged by the momentum, it’s also apparent that said momentum is concentrated in large part within the energy industry. An understandable scenario given the technical complexity of many microgrid solutions being proposed today (if you don’t believe me, pick any non-energy industry executive and ask them what a microgrid is)

Ultimately, however, industry growth will be contingent upon developing a way to convey the microgrid value proposition to people without LEED-AP certification or PE stamps. The energy industry must find a way to simplify the message, with the goal of creating similar excitement amongst potential end-users.

As such, below is a summary of how I approach the microgrid discussion with end-users. I’ll be honest, this is something I’ve struggled with for years…I’m not saying the below approach is perfect, but it may be a useful starting point for some:

1) Don’t trash the utility, because you’re wrong: A very common approach for project developers is to begin the microgrid conversation by explaining how inept the utility is…but you’re usually wrong…on average, US electric utilities provide a cost-efficient product with excellent up-time. Most executives don’t rank utility costs and/or quality concerns at the top of their priority list.

2) Focus on the concept of Diversification: While end-users might not understand the technical details of the proposed microgrid, everyone with a 401K understands the concept of diversification. Just like you probably shouldn’t invest 100% of your IRA contribution in a single blue chip stock, you might not want to get 100% of your power from a single source.

3) Understand what matters to the customer: How do they prioritize resiliency, economics, emissions? Be flexible, educate yourself on various generation options beyond your specialty so that you can present alternatives.

4) Don’t do bad projects: probably the biggest problem in the alternative energy industry, and the one that I’m most passionate about. Don’t do a project because you can sell a project. While that might make sense in the short term, it will kill you, your company, and the industry in the long term. Don’t try to fit a round peg in a square hole. In order for the microgrid concept to reach growth targets, we need companies that do great projects.

For reference, here are some interesting articles on Microgrids that I’ve read recently and might be useful:

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2014/12/the-detroit-power-outage-a-lesson-for-cities-about-microgrids

http://www.cospp.com/articles/2014/12/microgrid-projects-backed-by-nrel.html

https://synapsesynergygroup.com/blog/microgrid-technology-gaining-momentum-investment-rapid-growth/

Hope some people find this useful.

TH

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