It Takes a Village: Tomorrow’s Energy Is Community-Driven

By Jim Romeo | Sep 15, 2018




In New York’s Chautauqua County, the community is going green in many ways. It has adopted a policy that will track and report energy use in the county’s municipal buildings. It has deployed two all-electric, heavy-duty trucks into its municipal fleets, complete with vehicle charging stations. Also, it has launched a solar power campaign that encourages homeowners to install solar panels.

This represents a growing movement of communities that are looking to reduce their carbon footprint and energy consumption. Funding from state programs as well as incentives encourages them to do so.

Community incentive

New York state has put up $16 million for its Clean Energy Communities initiative to support local government leaders across the state. The leaders may receive grants to install programs, equipment and policy that will help implement renewable energy and sustainable development projects. It also melds with the state’s ambitious goal of having half of the state’s electricity derived from renewable energy resources by 2030.

Like Chautauqua County, other municipalities are implementing many green initiatives—from infrastructure to policy—that help create jobs and opportunity.

For each new piece of equipment and system that is to become part of a community, a host of contractors, subcontractors and other skilled trades will work on the installation. For electrical contractors, it’s not only important to be aware of energy communities, but they also must be prepared for them.

Going off-grid

Energy communities often seek off-grid arrangements. This might mean a campus environment or a widespread industrial site. Such sites represent contained communities. If the community adopts its own off-grid infrastructure, it sustains itself. Such communities may employ their own green and sustainable equipment and systems to provide electricity. In addition, such communities may also procure power from off-site entities that are not a local utility.

According to Navigant Research, many large multinational corporations, universities and municipalities engage in transaction models that procure renewable energy from utility-scale off-site renewable energy (ORE) projects. This enables the buying activity to meet their sustainability and energy-spend-reduction goals without having to invest in huge infrastructure on their own. Navigant estimates the global market for corporate, utility-scale procurement will reach $15.6 billion by 2027.

“Renewable-energy project developers and independent power producers [IPPs] are increasingly required to compete with traditional electricity generation sources, and the resulting uncertainties in long-term income streams will affect the bankability of renewable energy projects,” said William Tokash, senior research analyst, Navigant. “These new renewable-energy transaction models will not only help corporate buyers meet their sustainability and energy-spend-reduction goals but over time will help mitigate project bankability risks for project developers and IPPs.”

Impromptu energy communities

The off-grid approach is also used in the wake of natural disasters. Arensis, a Los Angeles-based distributed-energy provider, brought off-grid power to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Initially, its power unit delivered a combined 50 kilowatts (kW) of electricity and 120 kW of thermal energy to the Puerto Rican community of Fajardo. It powered Fajardo’s Sports Complex, used as a refugee shelter and distribution center. The company also sent a debris processor to produce fuel on-site using debris and woody biomass from the hurricane’s destruction.

“Though the government is currently rewiring the central electrical grid and working hard to have 90 percent of the island powered by December of this year, we are glad to support the desperately needed relief now and feel continued building of smart and efficient microgrids is an important alternative to having only one source of energy on the island,” said Julien Uhlig, CEO, Arensis.

Around the world, these energy communities are in their incipient stages. We live in a backdrop of “big utility” being the only source of energy, but things are changing. Benefit awaits for contractors, vendors and the communities who will no longer be so reliant on one source.

Smart village evolution

The model of a self-sustaining energy community—to be completely or partially off-grid—will develop in time. Global, underdeveloped communities stand to benefit.

Consider the IEEE’s Smart Village. In one example, villages used energy technology in remote locations in Pakistan and China. It uses efficient, high-lumen LED lights for residential lighting and solar LED street lighting mobile charging points and customized DC HD LED TV for these villages, which are at high elevations.

Most implementations of energy communities are yet to come. For vendors and contractors attuned to the energy community movement, domestically and abroad, there is opportunity to prosper from the movement as well.

Editor’s note: For more on communities like this, see “Isle of Light,” page 122.

About The Author

ROMEO is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, Va. He focuses on business and technology topics. Find him at





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