Microgrid forum explores alternative energy options for Athens County

M.C. Tilton |

Microgrids are an increasingly popular form of energy production independent of the common power grid. To explain the advantages of these small, self-supporting energy systems, Ohio University Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs executive-in-residence Michael Zimmer and Athens Energy Institute Project co-director Roger Wilkens held an open microgrids forum for the Athens community on January 28.

The forum included Athens County Commissioner Chris Chmiel, Athens City Council member Patrick McGee, and Ohio University Director of Utilities Joel Baetens.

Wilkens and Zimmer, who also counsels the Microgrid Institute in Washington, D.C., explained that microgrids maintain their own stable service within a small boundary. They combine local energy assets, resources and technologies to meet the host’s energy needs. Most microgrids fall into one of four categories: 

  • Off-grid microgridsincluding islands, remote sites and other systems not connected to a local utility network.
  • Utility-integrated campus microgridsthat are fully interconnected with a local utility grid but can also maintain some level of service in isolation from the grid, such as during a utility outage. Typical examples serve university and corporate campuses, prisons and military bases.
  • Community microgridsthat are integrated into utility networks. These serve multiple customers or services within a community, generally to provide resilient power for vital community assets.
  • Nanogridsthat serve single buildings or assets such as commercial, industrial or residential facilities, or dedicated systems, such as water treatment and pumping stations.

The Athens Microgrid Project will link the electrical energy systems for a cluster of six low- to moderate-income households in Athens County, enabling them to share costs and reduce electricity use. The pilot project aims to inform a greater movement toward the Appalachian region’s transition to renewable energy.

The Athens Energy Institute is an opportunity for Athens area residents concerned about energy policy and regulations to become involved in learning about new local and national energy efforts. 

The forum was sponsored by the Environmental Studies program at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs; the Consortium for Energy, Economics and the Environment (CE3); and the University College Common Experience Project on Sustainability.

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