Distributed energy: Powering the electricity grid together

Categories: How To
Published on: July 18, 2014

Mother Earth News / Kale Roberts / August/September 2014

Solar-Panels“Distributed energy” refers to electricity generation from many small-scale (often renewable) sources tied into the grid to meet the power demand of local communities — such as solar arrays or small wind turbines powering individual houses. This network is contrary to the conventional energy setup of large, centralized power plants that transmit electricity up to hundreds of miles to consumers. As the price of solar power continues to plummet and more homeowners install renewable energy systems on their homesteads, locally produced, distributed energy is becoming a larger component of the electricity grid.

Distributed small-scale power producers could make the nation’s electricity system stronger if their output were combined with storage systems and load-management software, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This is because these small systems relieve pressure on the grid during peak hours and continue to produce during outages. An increasing number of small renewable systems feeding into the electricity grid makes for a complex web of new connections, and, in this sense, the electricity grid must get a lot “messier” in order for its energy to be cleaner and less concentrated.