Accelerating climate change has unleashed historic storms, floods, and fires. To reduce emissions, the world is moving away from fossil fuels toward electrification through cleaner sources. Yet the U.S. electric utility system, much of it built a century ago, is not only failing to stand up under these conditions, but in some instances actually sparking the wildfires. Moreover, just as we are increasing our reliance on electricity for critical needs—including transportation, heating, communication, data, and medical devices the United States has suffered a growing number of blackouts, brownouts, and preventative public safety power shutoffs.
Twenty-first century technologies, such as rooftop photovoltaic solar, improved batteries, and microgrid controllers, have made clean energy microgrids increasingly appealing as a defense. The military and corporations have turned to electricity self-sufficiency in the form of stand-alone microgrids to limit their vulnerability and provide reliability and resilience in response to utility failures.
Yet grid-connected microgrids are still struggling to gain a toehold in territories now served by large for-profit utility companies. This for-profit model is the dominant form of electricity service in the United States, and resistance from these companies, as well as from some of the entrenched businesses and regulators whose jobs depend on perpetuation of this century-old model, has stalled deployment of new technologies. These obstacles have recently hindered the construction of microgrids, preventing development of a type of system that could provide critical back-up services to disadvantaged communities who lack resources to advocate for themselves or to purchase energy alternatives. Providing critical back-up power as a defense for those who can least protect themselves through these community microgrids could both literally and figuratively provide shelter from the storms.