In 2016, the United States experienced 3,879 blackouts of more than 48 minutes that affected over 18 million people. A recent poll says nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the national power grid is vulnerable to a cyber or physical attack; even more say they are unprepared for an extended outage.
In Brooklyn, N.Y., a group of residents and businesses have joined forces to form the Brooklyn Microgrid, in part, so that when the next blackout occurs, they will be able generate and store their own energy. The Brooklyn Microgrid, set in a five-square block area of Gowanus and Park Slope, is a network of solar panel owners whose energy sources are linked together and, while still connected to the main grid, are able to operate independently as a single entity if power is lost. The network had 50 participants as of March.
The project, owned by LO3 Energy, is also designed to enable users ("prosumers") to store or sell any excess electricity they produce to their consumer neighbors in a "peer-to-peer energy system" using blockchain, a database technology adopted from the financial sector. Blockchain enables transactions between sellers and buyers in real time without an intermediary, through a common, tamper-proof record of all transactions kept on the networked computers. Eventually, private owners could produce electricity and sell it directly to other consumers through trading renewable energy credits or, one day, by selling electricity directly. They would still, however, pay Con Edison for infrastructure maintenance and service.
Now in its early stages, the Brooklyn Microgrid is measuring energy production through data from meters installed in prosumers' homes and testing a smartphone app that will enable users to control the source of their energy and how much they are willing to pay for it.
Microgrids have been around for years, but traditional microgrids have usually served only one user, such as a hospital or university. Microgrids connect homes and businesses with local power generation and battery storage. They may utilize conventional energy sources or renewable energy, and are connected to the main grid, but have the ability to "island," i.e., to function independently of the grid.
For example, New York University's combined heat and power microgrid, built in 2011, kept many of NYU's buildings lit during Superstorm Sandy when most of lower Manhattan lost power
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