September 23, 2023


Epicurean Science & Tech

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

8 min read
Solar panels on the rooftop of the California Indian Museum and Multicultural Heart in Santa Rosa, Calif., exactly where American Micro-grid Methods is assisting the institution establish a resilience hub. Picture courtesy of American Microgrid Methods.

As element of Maryland Matters’ ongoing “Climate Calling” sequence, we will function occasional profiles of green strength entrepreneurs in Maryland.

Geoff Oxnam was sitting on the patio of his favorite espresso shop in Easton the other day, speaking about his get the job done in Hawaii, California, Louisiana, Massachusetts and dozens of other states. When he desires to confer with a person of his colleagues, all of whom work remotely, they’re in Seattle, Norway, Mumbai and other far-flung corners of the globe.

But make no mistake: The perform Oxnam does is rooted in Easton and informed by his 13 a long time as an executive with the Japanese Shore town’s special municipal utility. Oxnam, 53, is the CEO of American Microgrid Solutions LLC, a young corporation that advises authentic estate builders, nonprofits, and community businesses on how to established up photo voltaic arrays, resilience hubs, microgrids and other renewable vitality installations that are ready to face up to the disasters of the present — and long run.

“We’ve been blessed that the phone’s been ringing ever because we started,” Oxnam reported. “We know that is not generally going to be the case.”

By virtue of his get the job done, and his volunteer time as board chair of the Maryland Cleanse Power Center and as a member of the advisory board of the Maryland Electricity Innovation Institute, Oxnam has grow to be a person of state’s primary advocates for clean up strength engineering, specially battery storage. And as an entrepreneur, he’s capable to use his initially-hand knowledge to spread the gospel and the technological innovation.

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Oxnam introduced his business seven a long time back after slipping into the electric power era small business rather by accident when he grew to become communications director for municipally owned Easton Utilities, which delivers electric power, gasoline, telecommunications, water, and wastewater remedy solutions to the town’s 17,000 residents. He rose to come to be the utility’s vice president of operations — and however under no circumstances imagined he would turn out to be so completely steeped in the entire world of electric power grids, photo voltaic arrays and transmission regulation.

“We’re 25 several years into a two-12 months prepare,” Oxnam likes to say.

In relatively limited purchase, American Microgrid Alternatives has grown to provide clients in about 30 states, advising them on how to established up renewable vitality installations and storage amenities on their homes or how to set up resilience hubs in their communities — and how to finance and deal with them.

“They’re actually ready to encourage massive imagining,” explained Christina McPike, director for electricity and sustainability at WinnCompanies, a authentic estate advancement and management firm dependent in Massachusetts, who has labored with Oxnam.

Every single project has a backstory, and reveals a little something about the difficulties of placing clean up strength technologies into vast use. They also say something about the condition of the electric powered utility video game in an period when natural disasters are becoming far more commonplace.

“The American electricity grid is a marvel of engineering,” Oxnam said. “If you believe of the leading 5 points that created the American overall economy, the grid is one of them. But the know-how ages, the factors age. What we’re seeking to do is build the upcoming technology of architecture that may well seem unique from what we have now.”

‘I was on the lookout at the architecture of infrastructure’

Oxnam’s very own journey in some methods demonstrates the variations and growth in the enterprise of renewables.

He’s a former journalist, publicist and devoted environmentalist who came to Maryland to stick to his coronary heart. He was working at a magazine in Rhode Island when he was launched to his long term wife, a Baltimore indigenous, at a social collecting.

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

Finally, Oxnam indulged his enthusiasm for the atmosphere by functioning at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, in which he was communications director for a handful of yrs. When he and his spouse found out the difficulties of obtaining cost-effective, kid-welcoming Annapolis real estate, they made the decision to relocate, temporarily, over the Bay Bridge in Easton, so they could get started a relatives. That was 25 years in the past.

Within a couple of a long time, Oxnam landed the communications career at the nearby utility. It was a existence-altering encounter.

“Working at Easton Utilities was the ideal fingers-on graduate faculty in infrastructure operations I could ever have required,” he stated. At some place, Oxnam reported, his bosses informed him, “Feel no cost to determine out how it works and what you want to do about it.”

Geoff Oxnam. Courtesy picture.

The publicly owned utility has an atypical administration construction and an exemplary report. The mayor and town council appoint three commissioners who oversee functions, and the utility’s president and CEO, Hugh Grunden, is a neighborhood man and enterprise lifer who has operate the operation for just about 30 decades. Customer company is at a premium, and electric power outages in the town are uncommon.

“There’s been so a great deal hard work set into preventive servicing,” Oxnam explained. “There’s these types of a significant drive for excellence in operations. You really do not have a conflict between shareholders and ratepayers. There’s a large amount of regional delight in it. You can see it, you can contact it. You know the people today who are influenced by it, so you want to do your incredibly best to make guaranteed the technique is operating and functioning.”

Like a typical utility, Easton receives its electric powered electrical power from the PJM grid, which serves 13 states and the District of Columbia. But the city also has set up a considerable backup microgrid that shops vitality, developed to power the total neighborhood for seven to 10 times if the primary electric power resource is out of support.

“If there’s a massive outage like the East Coastline blackout, this is the only put where by you’ll be ready to use the ATM or get a burger,” Oxnam stated.

That crucial and unusually resilient backup received Oxnam thinking about the future of fashionable electrical power storage.

“Easton has a threat management approach that is definitely varied,” he mentioned. “While I was there, I was wanting at the architecture of infrastructure.”

‘They seriously helped us see the probable

So what does American Microgrid Methods do? It presents an array of companies, geared to nonprofits, governing administration agencies and non-public entities. They may possibly want to change their ability source to renewable strength. They may perhaps want to set up a significant-scale electrical power storage unit. They might want to build a resilience hub that results in being a collecting place in a local community, featuring unexpected emergency power alongside with several other necessities all through a crisis. As Oxnam places it, the purchasers are ordinarily hunting for “savings, sustainability or security” — or a combination of the 3.

“We’re a mission-pushed enterprise centered on strengthening communities,” he said. “And we imagine we can strengthen communities greatest by coming up with devices that give them far more handle.”

A lot of of the company’s consumers are tiny, local community-dependent health facilities that do not have the funds or infrastructure of key professional medical facilities but are nevertheless making an attempt to set up extra local climate-welcoming and reputable electric power sources, Oxnam stated.

American Microgrid Programs will pay a visit to a web-site to see about the feasibility of setting up renewable electrical power units, a microgrid or battery storage. It will focus on the simple issues guiding functioning a technique. It will match clientele with contractors. And it will make charge estimates and outline funding selections.

“Sometimes the financial engineering is a lot more tough than the actual engineering,” Oxnam explained. He calls the solutions his organization presents “soup to nuts management.” Often plenty of, the advice and products and services cover current wants but also search to the foreseeable future.

Contemplate a few assignments that American Microgrid Devices presently spotlights on its site. A single is a solar installation that the enterprise arranged at the U.S. Geological Support H2o Science Center in Catonsville. The govt water tests facility, is the 1st tenant in a tech park just outside the house the University of Maryland Baltimore County campus, and the photo voltaic challenge contains evaluation of whether or not solar will also be possible in other properties when additional tenants arrive.

A further American Microgrid Programs task is at a housing redevelopment venture in the Barry Farm neighborhood in Southeast Washington, D.C. The corporation is aiding the developer established up a battery storage facility and discussing the possibility of putting a local community resiliency middle in the heart of the progress.

In Hawaii, the business is operating with the Maui County federal government to strategy a network of resilience hubs during the island — and working with the challenges of acquiring to supply back-up renewable ability distribution to remote spots that are isolated from inhabitants facilities (Oxnam laments that when it arrived time for an American Microgrid staffer to invest a month recently in Maui performing on the undertaking, he didn’t get to go).

McPike stated WinnCompanies hired American Microgrid Devices following acquiring a grant to research the chance of putting in battery storage amenities at six housing developments they individual in the Northeast. The discussion also provided the possible for integrating battery storage, photo voltaic arrays, electrical automobile charging stations and controlled thermostats.

“They definitely assisted us see the likely and the price-add and the complexity of what you do after the conceptual investigation is total,” McPike stated.

Even for a enterprise that is currently operating solar panels on rooftops at apartment complexes in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and D.C., the prospect of a a lot more advanced, interconnected program of renewables “is interesting, remarkable and a small daunting,” she reported. But the firm thinks Oxnam’s business is in a position to assistance navigate the fiscal and regulatory difficulties.

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

Oxnam and his colleagues have come to be these types of specialists that they have collaborated with Kristin Baja, a previous local climate and resilience planner with the City of Baltimore and now a leader with the City Sustainability Directors Community, publishing guidebooks and other how-to products about resilience hubs.

“We virtually co-wrote the e-book,” he suggests.

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