Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are muscling their way into the country’s energy mix. But they’re still pretty unpredictable, creating significant management challenges and price volatility.
Now, tiny Isle au Haut is the laboratory with a big solution: islanders and engineers are using artificial intelligence, complex algorithms and a bootstrapping attitude in an urgent effort to design what they are calling the next, next electricity grid.
From the mailboat out to Isle au Haut, about six miles off the coast of Stonington, one can see red-lettered signs warning mariners of an underwater cable. The cable is the one that brings electricity to the island, and it could wear out at any moment. In fact, it’s already 17 years beyond its predicted life.
“You know if that cable failed, it’d be a disaster for the island,” says Steven Strong, one of a group of engineers, scientists and islanders who are trying to avert that disaster.
Their solution is a flexible microgrid, an array of island-based energy generators and storage systems that would keep the lights on and houses warm when that cable fails. The group is trying to do it for less than the $1.7 million cost of a new cable or, probably even costlier, gasoline to run a grid-scale diesel generator.