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Brooklyn Microgrid Seeks to Disrupt NYC’s Power Monopoly

Words by Leon Kaye

On average, one’s utility bill in New York City costs about $75 a month. Of course, the emphasis is on average: If you happen to have air conditioning, or live in one of those lovely but often energy-inefficient buildings found across the city’s boroughs, that sweltering August bill could easily be $200 for even a shoebox of an apartment. And when one’s paycheck is largely going toward rent, any break in the monthly finances are welcome -- especially as the transformation in Brooklyn over the past 15 years has turned it into the new Manhattan.

And it is in Brooklyn where a joint venture between LO3 Energy and Consensus Systems hopes to wean more customers off the local power behemoth known as Con Edison. After its launch was announced last year, Brooklyn Microgrid has been cutting through the red tape of New York City’s electricity system to deliver power generated by solar for residents who live in the neighborhoods of Park Slope and Gowanus. The hardware and software that permits Brooklyn Microgrid to monitor energy consumption and delivery is TransactiveGrid, which is also a joint venture between these two companies.

Con Edison does not have the stranglehold it once had on New York’s utility customers, and indeed recent deregulation has given consumers more choices about which provider they want to keep their lights on. Nevertheless, New Yorkers are still heavily reliant on the city’s ancient and complex grid, a fact of which many residents became painfully aware during and after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. At least 8.5 million people lost power when Sandy hit, and 1.3 million lacked electricity one week after the storm ended. Plus, many owners of stand-alone solar installations received a rude awakening when they found out that they were also, for the most part, shut off during the peak of the hurricane.

Microgrids, however, demonstrate potential to provide power during times of emergencies or extreme weather; those managing such systems can disconnect and connect with the local grid as needed. Furthermore, with the awareness about climate change Sandy helped foment, citizens have the opportunity to score cost-effective, sustainable and secure electrical power.

One of New York’s neighbors took notice: Three years ago, Connecticut became the first state in the U.S. to launch a microgrid program with the aim to supplement its electrical power infrastructure. Similar projects are appearing throughout the U.S. to further test development and deployment strategies. Now this group of clean-energy advocates, engineers and software developers want to generate electricity from renewables for Brooklyn. In the meantime they have received support from companies including Tesla, SolarCity, ABB and Siemens.

Those who advocate microgrids say power systems like this one in Brooklyn can boost local economies while allowing residents to live more sustainably. During times of blackouts or natural disasters, owners of solar installations or wind turbines are free to buy and sell energy from microgrids. They can also be more efficient because of the short distances electricity needs to travel from panel to its final destination; the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that up to 6 percent of the power generated in the U.S. is often lost during transmission and distribution.

For now, Brooklyn Microgrid is running a small pilot program. The project’s managers are asking for local citizens to show their support in scaling this venture, and residents of Park Slope and Gowanus can request an assessment to see whether they can participate.

Image credits: Brooklyn Microgrids, Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked and lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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