Preaching the gospel of microgrids and battery storage from a pulpit on the Jap Shore

Preaching the gospel of microgrids and battery storage from a pulpit on the Eastern Shore

Photo voltaic panels on the rooftop of the California Indian Museum and Multicultural Middle in Santa Rosa, Calif., the place American Micro-grid Options helps the establishment set up a resilience hub. Photograph courtesy of American Microgrid Options.

As a part of Maryland Issues’ ongoing “Local weather Calling” collection, we are going to characteristic occasional profiles of inexperienced vitality entrepreneurs in Maryland.

Geoff Oxnam was sitting on the patio of his favourite espresso store in Easton the opposite day, speaking about his work in Hawaii, California, Louisiana, Massachusetts and dozens of different states. When he must consult with one among his colleagues, all of whom work remotely, they’re in Seattle, Norway, Mumbai and different far-flung corners of the world.

However make no mistake: The work Oxnam does is rooted in Easton and knowledgeable by his 13 years as an govt with the Jap Shore city’s distinctive municipal utility. Oxnam, 53, is the CEO of American Microgrid Options LLC, a younger firm that advises actual property builders, nonprofits, and group organizations on learn how to arrange photo voltaic arrays, resilience hubs, microgrids and different renewable vitality installations which might be in a position to stand up to the disasters of the current — and future.

“We’ve been blessed that the telephone’s been ringing ever since we began,” Oxnam stated. “We all know that’s not all the time going to be the case.”

By advantage of his work, and his volunteer time as board chair of the Maryland Clear Vitality Middle and as a member of the advisory board of the Maryland Vitality Innovation Institute, Oxnam has develop into one among state’s main advocates for clear vitality expertise, particularly battery storage. And as an entrepreneur, he’s ready to make use of his first-hand expertise to unfold the gospel and the expertise.

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Oxnam launched his firm seven years in the past after falling into the electrical energy technology enterprise fairly accidentally when he grew to become communications director for municipally owned Easton Utilities, which gives electrical energy, gasoline, telecommunications, water, and wastewater remedy companies to the city’s 17,000 residents. He rose to develop into the utility’s vice chairman of operations — and nonetheless by no means imagined he would develop into so totally steeped on the earth of energy grids, photo voltaic arrays and transmission regulation.

“We’re 25 years right into a two-year plan,” Oxnam likes to say.

In pretty brief order, American Microgrid Options has grown to serve purchasers in about 30 states, advising them on learn how to arrange renewable vitality installations and storage amenities on their properties or learn how to set up resilience hubs of their communities — and learn how to finance and handle them.

“They’re actually in a position to encourage massive pondering,” stated Christina McPike, director for vitality and sustainability at WinnCompanies, an actual property growth and administration firm primarily based in Massachusetts, who has labored with Oxnam.

Each mission has a backstory, and divulges one thing in regards to the challenges of placing clear vitality applied sciences into vast use. In addition they say one thing in regards to the state of the electrical utility recreation in an period when pure disasters have gotten extra commonplace.

“The American energy grid is a marvel of engineering,” Oxnam stated. “In the event you consider the highest 5 issues that constructed the American economic system, the grid is one among them. However the expertise ages, the parts age. What we’re attempting to do is construct the subsequent technology of structure that will look totally different from what we’ve in the present day.”

‘I used to be trying on the structure of infrastructure’

Oxnam’s personal journey in some methods displays the modifications and progress within the enterprise of renewables.

He’s a former journalist, publicist and devoted environmentalist who got here to Maryland to observe his coronary heart. He was working at {a magazine} in Rhode Island when he was launched to his future spouse, a Baltimore native, at a social gathering.

“We knew from the hour we met that we had been going to get married,” he recalled.

Finally, Oxnam indulged his ardour for the atmosphere by working on the Chesapeake Bay Basis in Annapolis, the place he was communications director for a handful of years. When he and his spouse found the challenges of discovering reasonably priced, kid-friendly Annapolis actual property, they determined to relocate, quickly, over the Bay Bridge in Easton, so they might begin a household. That was 25 years in the past.

Inside a number of years, Oxnam landed the communications job on the native utility. It was a life-altering expertise.

“Working at Easton Utilities was the most effective hands-on graduate faculty in infrastructure operations I might ever have wished,” he stated. In some unspecified time in the future, Oxnam stated, his bosses advised him, “Be at liberty to determine the way it works and what you wish to do about it.”

Geoff Oxnam. Courtesy photograph.

The publicly owned utility has an atypical administration construction and an exemplary report. The mayor and city council appoint three commissioners who oversee operations, and the utility’s president and CEO, Hugh Grunden, is a neighborhood man and firm lifer who has run the operation for nearly 30 years. Customer support is at a premium, and energy outages within the city are uncommon.

“There’s been a lot effort put into preventive upkeep,” Oxnam stated. “There’s such a excessive motivation for excellence in operations. You don’t have a battle between shareholders and ratepayers. There’s a whole lot of native delight in it. You’ll be able to see it, you may contact it. You recognize the people who find themselves affected by it, so that you wish to do your absolute best to verify the system is working and functioning.”

Like a normal utility, Easton will get its electrical energy from the PJM grid, which serves 13 states and the District of Columbia. However the city additionally has arrange a considerable backup microgrid that shops vitality, designed to energy the complete group for seven to 10 days if the primary energy supply is out of service.

“If there’s a giant outage just like the East Coast blackout, that is the one place the place you’ll be capable of use the ATM or get a burger,” Oxnam stated.

That important and unusually resilient backup obtained Oxnam fascinated about the way forward for trendy vitality storage.

“Easton has a threat administration technique that’s actually various,” he stated. “Whereas I used to be there, I used to be trying on the structure of infrastructure.”

‘They actually helped us see the potential

So what does American Microgrid Options do? It affords an array of companies, geared to nonprofits, authorities businesses and personal entities. They could wish to convert their energy provide to renewable vitality. They could wish to arrange a large-scale vitality storage unit. They could wish to set up a resilience hub that turns into a gathering place in a group, providing emergency energy together with many different requirements throughout a disaster. As Oxnam places it, the purchasers are normally in search of “financial savings, sustainability or safety” — or a mix of the three.

“We’re a mission-driven firm targeted on strengthening communities,” he stated. “And we consider we are able to strengthen communities greatest by designing techniques that give them extra management.”

Lots of the firm’s purchasers are small, community-based well being facilities that don’t have the finances or infrastructure of main medical amenities however are nonetheless attempting to arrange extra climate-friendly and dependable energy sources, Oxnam stated.

American Microgrid Programs will go to a web site to see in regards to the feasibility of putting in renewable vitality techniques, a microgrid or battery storage. It can talk about the sensible challenges behind working a system. It can match purchasers with contractors. And it’ll make price estimates and description financing choices.

“Typically the monetary engineering is harder than the precise engineering,” Oxnam stated. He calls the companies his firm affords “soup to nuts administration.” Typically sufficient, the recommendation and companies cowl current wants but in addition look to the long run.

Contemplate three tasks that American Microgrid Programs at present spotlights on its web site. One is a photo voltaic set up that the corporate organized on the U.S. Geological Service Water Science Middle in Catonsville. The federal government water testing facility, is the primary tenant in a tech park simply outdoors the College of Maryland Baltimore County campus, and the photo voltaic mission consists of evaluation of whether or not photo voltaic can even be possible in different buildings when extra tenants arrive.

One other American Microgrid Programs mission is at a housing redevelopment mission within the Barry Farm neighborhood in Southeast Washington, D.C. The corporate helps the developer arrange a battery storage facility and discussing the potential for placing a group resiliency middle within the coronary heart of the event.

In Hawaii, the corporate is working with the Maui County authorities to plan a community of resilience hubs all through the island — and coping with the challenges of getting to offer back-up renewable energy distribution to distant areas which might be remoted from inhabitants facilities (Oxnam laments that when it got here time for an American Microgrid staffer to spend a month not too long ago in Maui engaged on the mission, he didn’t get to go).

McPike stated WinnCompanies employed American Microgrid Programs after receiving a grant to check the potential for putting in battery storage amenities at six housing developments they personal within the Northeast. The dialogue additionally included the potential for integrating battery storage, photo voltaic arrays, electrical car charging stations and managed thermostats.

“They actually helped us see the potential and the value-add and the complexity of what you do after the conceptual evaluation is full,” McPike stated.

Even for an organization that’s already working photo voltaic panels on rooftops at residence complexes in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and D.C., the prospect of a extra advanced, interconnected system of renewables “is fascinating, thrilling and a bit of daunting,” she stated. However the firm believes Oxnam’s agency is ready to assist navigate the monetary and regulatory challenges.

“AMS is filling a information void,” McPike stated.

Oxnam and his colleagues have develop into such specialists that they’ve collaborated with Kristin Baja, a former local weather and resilience planner with the Metropolis of Baltimore and now a pacesetter with the City Sustainability Administrators Community, publishing guidebooks and different how-to supplies about resilience hubs.

“We actually co-wrote the ebook,” he says.

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