How Brooklyn is on the cusp of getting a community-owned microgrid

We’ve written before about how we believe microgrids can be a key part of the future — making cities more resilient, among providing other valuable benefits. And now Brooklyn is close to getting one.

Already 60 people are generating their own power through renewable means and 800 more want to buy it. It’s the regulatory environment that has slowed the project down. But as the neighborhood is on the cusp of getting its own community-owned microgrid, it’s worth looking at the journey to this point — and exploring where else the idea could work. — Kevin Ebi


By Energy Times

The story this spring popped off the page of the New York Times, chronicling the emergence of a hardy band forging the Brooklyn Microgid. A startup, LO3 Energy, is working mightily to get it off the ground. The Energy Times talked with Lawrence Orsini, LO3 chief executive, about the project and changes looming over electricity markets. He will keynote the Empowering Customers & Cities conference November 7-8 in Chicago. Orsini’s comments, edited for clarity and style, follow.

ENERGY TIMES: What are you focused on at LO3?

ORSINI: We are pursuing the creation of virtual and physical microgrids. We’re going to enable the transactive energy control of virtual microgrids and physical microgrids. The Brooklyn Microgrid is one project. We have a number of projects in Australia, Germany, the UK and a couple more here in the United States. At this point, what we really intend to do is test business models and see what resonates. We are looking at people having different ways to participate in energy. To this point, you really haven’t got a lot of things that you could choose to do related to energy. But that’s changing pretty quickly.

ENERGY TIMES: What is the status of the Brooklyn Microgrid?

ORSINI: Today in Brooklyn we have about 60 prosumers who own primarily photovoltaics but also wind and combined heat and power units. Meters are installed, data streams into the platform. A virtual market is happening. We have about 800 consumers that are ready to either buy or sell energy as soon as we’re ready to allow them to. We’re in the last stages of conversations with the regulators in New York. We spent a fair amount of time going back and forth fitting pretty well into the existing regulatory framework. But there’s some really strong interest by some of the regulators and policy makers here to push a little bit further. So we’ve been figuring out how to push that realistically within the existing policy framework with timelines that actually work for a business.

ENERGY TIMES: So in New York, the policy framework has been set by the REV or Reforming the Energy Vision initiative. Could you be in any state in the country?

ORSINI: We could fit pretty well into New York, Texas and California. There’s pretty progressive policy there. We could still fit within most of the states staying within the existing policy but it’s going to work much better in those three states early on. Most of the policy leadership in the United States is going to come from Texas, New York and California. So those are the places to be.

ENERGY TIMES: Those three states span the political spectrum, conservative to liberal.

ORSINI: Completely. The platform doesn’t care about politics, it cares about choice. Keep your politics your own, this is just providing you the choice to decide what sort of fuel sources you want to support; whether or not you can trade megawatt to megawatt directly in a market. It has nothing to do with partisan politics. It has everything to do with technology and running energy markets.

ENERGY TIMES: So these 800 folks ready to sign on for Brooklyn Microgrid – how will they be served?

ORSINI: Folks will actually be buying from the Brooklyn Microgrid. It has got its own separate benefits corporation here in the community that’s meant to be largely community-owned at the end of the day. So they’ll be buying from Brooklyn Microgrid Benefits Corp. and selling services on a platform. Brooklyn Microgrid will procure the energy needed by the customers.