Understanding Microgrids through Microbreweries

Lisa Markowski, ERS, for Zondits

Can beer make things clearer? It’s highly possible, although not necessarily through its consumption. Thinking about how microbreweries operate compared to large, national breweries can give the non-engineer a better understanding of the functions and goals of the modern grid.

Writer/engineer/EnerNex consultant Sean Morash understands that “normal people” might not readily grasp the same concepts that those educated and experienced in energy engineering do. And as the ways energy is created and distributed continue to evolve, it can only be helpful for the layperson to know more. Morash’s analogy is both useful and interesting.

Using Microbreweries to Explain Grid Modernization

Energy Central, August 23, 2016

Energy consultants tend to have a hard time relating to normal people.  Maybe that’s because we’re engineers at heart, or maybe it’s because we get too involved in our hyper-specific focus area and lose track of the general knowledge of everyday people.  Somewhere along the way, things that are taken for granted by someone who studies grid modernization are nuanced enough to give a layman pause.  This inability to maintain context, tantamount to a billionaire’s inability to list the price of a gallon of milk, makes articulating the really technical concepts all the more difficult.  With that context and the help of one of the great uniting forces in our world, the simple analogy below should help folks understand the current paradigm shift that the energy world is experiencing.

Microbreweries and brew pubs produce small amounts of beer, typically much smaller than large-scale corporate breweries (Up to 15,000 barrels of beer per year for a microbrewery compared to 6 million for a large brewery), and are unique in part because of their location and regional ingredients. The future of beer is most likely this smaller-scale supplier catering to the taste of local customers.

Residential solar arrays produce small amounts of electricity, typically much smaller than traditional utility power plants, and are unique in part because of their location, varying size, and quantity of installations. The future of the electricity system is this smaller-scale, quickly installed generation model.

The parallels between the regional microbreweries and distributed energy resources are obvious. Both industries are seeing their operations eliminate some of the cost of transportation by making the product where it is consumed. Microbrews often distribute locally to other businesses if they produce more than gets consumed on premises. The same goes for distributed generation, only the product is electricity.

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Image credit: Danielle Scott