David Breecker


As most Green Fire Times readers know, the world is reinventing electricity. This reinvention will affect every aspect of the electric power system and its economic opportunities, including:

  • How we make it (from distributed, local, renewable sources)
  • How we use it (far more efficiently)
  • What we use it for (including electric transportation)
  • How we deliver it (via a smart, interactive, self-healing grid)

Estimates of the potential economic benefit from this transition are as high as $2 trillion, meaning the opportunities for business- and job creation are huge. But so far, progress has been slower than anticipated.

Microgrid Systems

One important component of this revolution is a shift to a decentralized energy network, featuring a design known as a “microgrid.” Microgrids are modern, small-scale versions of the centralized electricity system. They achieve specific local goals, such as reliability, carbon emission reduction, diversification of energy sources and cost reduction, established by the community being served. Like the bulk power grid, smart microgrids generate, distribute and regulate the flow of electricity to consumers, but do so locally. Smart microgrids are an ideal way to integrate renewable resources on the community level and allow for customer participation in the electricity enterprise. They can be connected to, and part of, the main utility grid, or operate independently.

Many experts believe that microgrids are a critical component of an effective smart-grid strategy. Microgrids will serve as enabling infrastructure for many advanced energy system goals, including: large-scale penetration of intermittent renewables and electric vehicle integration; intelligent energy-efficiency applications; combined heat- and power efficiencies; and system resiliency and security.

The economic ramifications will be enormous, and new global industries, businesses and jobs will be created. But before these benefits can be realized, there is much research and development that needs to be done.

The Microgrid Systems Lab

The Santa Fe Microgrid Systems Lab (MSL) will play a crucial role in this energy transformation worldwide, with a significant and sustainable local economic development impact. MSL is a new initiative, with a mission to “accelerate the commercial deployment of microgrid systems worldwide.” This includes deployments in the developing world, to help alleviate “energy poverty” for an estimated 2.4 billion people; and in the industrial world, retrofitting the existing grid for improved performance, and to meet economic, security and environmental goals.

The key elements of the Lab are: the Microgrid Innovation Consortium, to be developed and operated by the Santa Fe Innovation Park, for applied R&D, cross-sector collaboration, human factors, and simulation and modeling; the Global Microgrid Center, a comprehensive testing and certification facility, for performance and interoperability standards at the system- and sub-system module levels; and a Workforce Training and Professional Development Program, to be developed and operated by Santa Fe Community College (with its university partners), to meet future human-resource needs. In summary, the Lab brings three components together in one integrated complex, as depicted in the graphic:


Systems Appoach graphic


The initiative is endorsed by the New Mexico federal congressional delegation, and the city and county of Santa Fe have passed resolutions in support. Efforts are underway to secure approximately $1 million in planning and engineering stage funds; and from there, an estimated $50-$100 million in implementation funds via a public/private partnership.

The Microgrid Innovation Consortium

The Microgrid Innovation Consortium supports MSL’s mission to accelerate the commercial deployment of microgrid systems worldwide, by addressing critical aspects of this challenge, and the associated opportunity. By bringing leading companies, utilities and public agencies, drawn from all relevant sectors, to Santa Fe, the Consortium (along with the testing and certification center) will also fuel economic development in the region: Large companies will have an incentive to locate satellite units here, and small companies will spin out of the innovation process and be attracted to the region as a fertile start-up arena with global connections. As a pre-competitive collaboration, the Consortium is designed to promote vigorous competition by solving shared challenges, and to unleash the full innovation capacity of its members and the global community of interest.

The Consortium is assembling its initial cohort of members and has begun work on developing innovative solutions to practical challenges in the field. The Lab and Consortium support the U.N. Sustainable Energy for All program, and are collaborating with Sandia National Laboratories on challenges related to this initiative. MSL also supports ongoing commercial microgrid deployment programs.

The Santa Fe Innovation Park

With MSL as its flagship energy project, the Santa Fe Innovation Park (SFIP) is a real-world R&D lab for social systems innovation, with a mandate to “Think Globally, Act Locally, and Scale Broadly.” Other projects in development include such critical systems as social media and digital community; water and natural resources; holistic health and wellness; and community capital and impact investing. To learn more, visit www.santafeinnovate.org/about




David Breecker is the founder and president of the Santa Fe Innovation Park and serves as general manager of the Microgrid Systems Lab.





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