Proponents of solar microgrids held an open forum for the Athens community Thursday to talk about the potential value of the technology in southeastern Ohio.
Michael Zimmer, a councilman for the Microgrid Institute and Roger Wilkens, Athens Energy Institute Project co-director and and the Center for the Creation of Cooperation (CCC) Executive Director, emphasized the importance of what a microgrid can provide.
According to the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, microgrids are designed to operate autonomously of the traditional power grid to avoid long-term power outages. They could replace each building’s independent grids and would limit the use of backup generators.
“We’re learning all we can about the different types of solar energy and hope to someday help other people,” said Mike Bailey, an independent computer repair man and Appalachian Renewable Energy Consumer Cooperative member who attended the event.
Zimmerman and Wilkens believe community members will be motivated to act because of the vulnerability of current centralized utility grids during severe weather. Educating the community, in their opinion, will lead to a change in public policy that will support the self-sufficient microgrids and other clean energy initiatives.
In 2013, the CCC collaborated with the Ohio University Mechanical Engineering Department to fund a pilot project co-directed by Wilkens. The plan was to create an electrical energy system for a cluster of six isolated rural households in Athens County. The goal was to enable the households to reduce their use of electricity and share costs by working together. At the moment, there are three houses at the “Test Bed” site, located at Humble Roots Farm. The site is expected to be completed in February.
“I think it’s a real opportunity for local people to go beyond some of the corporate regulations of the costs and come up with lower cost systems and do it more democratically, on our own,” said Peggy Gish, a former organic vegetarian farmer and current resident of the “Test Bed” site.
The Athens Energy Institute has started conducting energy seminar sessions biweekly to educate the public and critically discuss “legal and regulatory issues affecting community energy development in Ohio and elsewhere.” Energy democracy, utility grid systems, net metering for home and business solar power and battery storage options will also be discussed.
“I am interested in raising my family here in Athens and being a part of a microgrid that we can get our electricity from alternative sources,” Ohio University Environmental Project Manager Jen Bowman said.
The next chance to learn more about the microgrids and the transition into self-sufficient electricity sources is Thursday, Feb. 4, 5:30-7 p.m. at the ACEnet Building C Conference Room.