Cleantech Market Intelligence
Zombie Dread Fuels Microgrid Market
Extraordinary weather events, such as hurricanes Sandy and Irene, have led the state of Connecticut to plow a total of $18 million into microgrids strategically located across the state, with nine projects now under construction. An additional $30 million for additional microgrids was recently approved by state lawmakers. Other East Coast states, including New York, are considering similar moves as a response to extreme weather events apparently linked to global climate change.
Microgrid fever is also spreading to the Midwest, where it was announced in late July that nine states will collaborate under the umbrella of the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC) to pursue economic development and new jobs initiatives linked to microgrid components and systems, with an eye toward opportunities in key export markets.
Many baby boomers recall the advent of bomb shelters in the 1950s. I recall as a kid going down into one such chamber on the outskirts of Milwaukee, marveling at all the rows and rows of canned goods, not to mention my first glimpse of a Playboy calendar. With the thawing of the Cold War, the bomb shelter fad faded away, though I still wonder what happened to all those well-stocked underground bunkers.
The September 11th attacks failed to re-ignite interest in these old-school answers to disaster threats, though it certainly played a role in prompting the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to re-evaluate its power supply security, and to begin developing various types of microgrids for domestic military bases as well as for remote outposts overseas in hostile regions, such as Afghanistan.
The appeal of these resilient islands of reliable power is also attracting a constituency not normally interested in the power grid infrastructure: survivalists. A whimsical story posted by the Rocky Mountain Institute linked microgrids to the growing fear of zombie invasion, fueled by Hollywood’s recent obsession with the living dead in movies, such as World War Z. (14% of the U.S. public believes a zombie apocalypse could happen in the next several years, according to a YouGov survey.)
Fear of the undead is being matched by real projects, such as one project in Kansas developed by a Colorado company called Sustainable Power Systems. Known as the Kansas Survival Condo, this system was constructed in an abandoned Atlas-F missile silo that reaches 200 feet below the earth’s surface. But unlike the primitive bomb shelters constructed by your parents in the 1950s, this structure relies upon state-of-the-art microgrid technology. The 500 kW power supply system, which is normally interconnected with the utility grid but can operate islanded in the event of grid outage, incorporates a mix of diesel generation (200 kW), wind power (100 kW), and advanced lead acid batteries (200 kW) to power up unusual loads that include a spa, pool, movie theater, and aquaculture food system.
Will the design and development of this kind of super-deluxe hidey hole, complete with a self-sustaining microgrid, become a viable business? That remains to be seen. Whether you’re worried about zombies, the terrorist threat, or global climate change, though, the appeal of self-sufficient power infrastructure is on the rise, and survivalists will not be the only new constituency recognizing the possibilities now available with off-grid technology.