Vineyard Energy Project gets $700K stimulus grant
The Vineyard Energy Project, a nonprofit group that promotes renewable energy and energy efficiency, learned this week that it will get a $787,250 grant from the federal Department of Energy. The grant is part of a $3.4 billion investment in "smart grid" technology nationwide. The money comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the federal stimulus package.
The grant will be used to establish smart grid technology on the Island, including a test of energy-efficient appliances that can be managed from a central control room. In that way, managers can restrict electricity usage during peak demand periods, when it is expensive, and shift it to lower demand, less expensive times.
Vineyard Energy Project executive director Dave McGlinchey said he got the news Tuesday morning, in a phone call from 10th District Congressman William Delahunt's office. "It's thrilling, and I think appropriate, that this exciting new technology and this exciting new approach to managing energy will happen here on the Vineyard," he said.
"The residents of Martha's Vineyard have certainly embraced the challenges of Island living, especially where energy independence is concerned," Rep. Delahunt said. "The Vineyard Energy Project is uniquely positioned to help the Vineyard become a national model on energy conservation."
Mr. McGlinchey said 50 Island homes would participate. General Electric is a partner in the pilot project. The company will offer homeowners the chance to buy "smart" home appliances at cost. Vineyard Energy Project will install the necessary infrastructure, which will work much like a home wireless network. That will allow the appliances to "communicate" with system managers. Vineyard Energy Project will also develop the software and central control room necessary to operate the network of appliances. There are several ways in which system managers can control energy usage in order to conserve electricity.
Mr. McGlinchey offered the example of a water heater. System managers might reduce the amount of electricity going to the water heater for an hour when demand for electricity is high, but hot water usage is low. The homeowner is not likely to notice, since the hot water will cool very little in the insulated tank. Some appliances might be turned off during peak demands, and turned back on when demand is less, and electricity less expensive. The program will measure how much energy is saved, but also how homeowners react to manipulation of their home appliances from outside.
"One of the ways we're going to really get at energy use is to have smart appliances, to get in and program behavior in the home," Mr. McGlinchey said. "If this works, it's a huge step forward, and it's exciting that we get to do it here on the Vineyard."
The project will also depend on "real time pricing," of electricity. Currently, NSTAR, the Island's electricity supplier, charges a flat rate for energy. But Mr. McGlinchey said it's possible to price electricity in real time. It is more expensive to deliver electricity in peak hours, and less expensive to deliver it in off-peak hours. By shifting demand, consumers could save money by using energy in less expensive hours.
The stimulus money is targeted at projects that create jobs. Mr. McGlinchey said contractors would be hired to install appliances and install the communications infrastructure, as well as develop the software to monitor and manage energy use. But that raises questions about whether appliances available at cost will cause local appliance dealers to lose business, and possibly shed jobs.
"We're aware with these subsidized appliances, there will be some degree of competing with local dealers," Mr. McGlinchey said. "These are prototype appliances, to see if this technology will work. We think that's really important."
Part of the Vineyard Energy Project's mission is developing a large scale community-owned renewable energy cooperative. Though the coop is not yet operational, the group is recruiting members now, at a cost of $50. The cost rises quarterly until the year 2015, when a membership will cost $975. The pilot smart grid project will be open only to members of the cooperative.
"The real drive of this from my perspective is that this program, smart grid demand response, will be launched as part of the new coop," Mr. McGlinchey said. "It just adds to the strength of the coop."
The grant will benefit many more Island residents eventually, Mr. McGlinchey said. "Once you get that infrastructure in place, once you develop the software, it will serve far more than 50 households," he said, adding that smart grid technology could also enable more efficient integration of wind and solar energy in the future.