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Executive Viewpoints: Executive Michelle Blaise on ComEd’s Microgrid Strategy
Microgrids: Keeping Power Flowing When Communities Need It Most
At ComEd, we’re proud to be producing record reliability for our customers today. But we know that the challenges of tomorrow require innovation and new technologies – particularly given the more extreme weather and increasing security concerns we are now witnessing.
In fact, in light of grid resilience and security needs, microgrids are emerging as one of the next major developments within the energy sector.
Microgrids are small, self-contained energy grids that can operate connected to the main energy grid or can “island,” disconnecting from our smart grid to operate autonomously using local power generation – which often includes a clean, renewable source like solar – in the case of a catastrophic weather or security event.
Powering the Public Good: Utilities and Microgrids
We believe that microgrid technology has a particularly important role to play in protecting public infrastructure, keeping power flowing to critical public facilities to ensure water can flow, hospitals can function, and public safety agencies can respond to urgent health and safety needs of impacted communities.
We also believe utilities have a critical role in the development of microgrids that serve this public service function, given the longstanding role companies like ours have in ensuring the broadest, most equitable access possible to energy and its benefits.
This utility role is particularly important given that most critical public infrastructure situations do not lend themselves to a private microgrid model. Public and non-profit organizations simply don’t have the necessary resources. Further, utility ownership of the generation on microgrids provides assurance that the resource is there when it’s needed for our most critical public assets.
Site Selection: Rigor, Research and Collaboration
Guided by this philosophy, we put our engineers to work to develop a proposed microgrid plan that will provide for critical public services at sites throughout northern Illinois, ensuring greater security for our customers while enabling important learnings on integrating microgrid technology into the smart grid.
While the five proposed microgrids are now being considered by our state legislature as part of the Next Generation Energy Plan, they started as simply several among a host of possibilities.
In consultation with experts from federal agencies like the Departments of Energy and Homeland Security, as well as from state and local emergency management organizations, my team of engineers developed a “resiliency metric” that allows for a holistic assessment of a host of factors, including the security and resilience implications of supported critical public infrastructure, current reliability, and anticipated load growth. Then, square mile by square mile, we scored every part of our energy grid, arriving at the most critical locations for microgrid technology. Finally, with future learnings in mind, we selected the five proposed microgrids for their deliberately wide range of geography (rural, urban and suburban) and protected capabilities (water, emergency services and transportation, among others.).
The resiliency metric that drove this rigorous selection process has been lauded within the energy industry, including by earning first place at the international CIGRÉ-USNC Next Generation Network Competition at the prestigious CIGRÉ Grid of the Future Symposium.
Proposed Microgrids: Securing Critical Public Infrastructure
In the months since developing our microgrid proposal, we have engaged extensively with community leaders, including the many organizations whose services would be protected at these five sites:
Illinois Medical District (IMD)
Home to labs, facilities, two universities and over 40 healthcare-related facilities, the IMD microgrid would provide greater energy security to its community of patients, doctors and researchers.
Chicago Heights Water Microgrid
This proposed project would protect the water pumping and treatment facilities that service eight south suburban communities and nearly 100,000 constituents from service failure in the event of an emergency.
ComEd’s Bronzeville project, in tandem with the existing microgrid at Illinois Tech, would become the world’s first microgrid cluster of utility- and privately-owned microgrids. It will also include the most sophisticated solar and storage project in the Midwest. This project, which has already received multiple grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, is intended to develop Bronzeville as a blueprint for a smart grid future while serving the Chicago Police Department Headquarters, senior health care facilities and educational facilities.
DuPage County Government Complex
This complex includes administrative buildings, a sheriff department, emergency management offices and a jail among other civic facilities within a small footprint. In ComEd’s conversations with community leaders, they identified continued operation of local government during emergency conditions as a high priority.
Rockford International Airport
The Rockford International Airport is a major hub for air cargo and a crucial component of the local economy. The proposed microgrid would allow the airport to continue operations even in the event of major event on the energy grid.
Leading the Way to a Safe, Sustainable Future
The future of energy is clean, secure and completely customizable. Through proposed investments in microgrid technology, ComEd is working to create a brighter, more secure future for some of Illinois’ most important public infrastructure. It’s work that makes our whole team of engineers very proud, as we work to provide the very best service to our customers.