Driving Innovation

Microgrid Learnings Critical to Clean and Resilient Energy Future

March 1, 2018

The Bronzeville community on the near south side of Chicago has a rich cultural legacy of civil rights activism, economic empowerment, music, and art. Now, the neighborhood is poised to be at the forefront of one of the most exciting developments in the future of energy.

On Feb. 28, the Illinois Commerce Commission approved ComEd’s plan to construct a microgrid in Bronzeville that will provide a key testing environment for ComEd to understand how microgrids can benefit all of its approximately 4 million customers. At the same time, the project promises to deliver direct benefits to local customers, including critical facilities in the community, like the Chicago Police Department headquarters.

What is a microgrid, anyway?  

A microgrid is a small power system with defined boundaries that can operate either in tandem with the larger electric grid or as an “island” when there’s an interruption on the main grid. A microgrid connects and draws on local power sources, such as community solar and rooftop solar, to serve customers within the microgrid footprint.

Think of it this way: A microgrid is like a backyard or community garden. When a community grows their own tomatoes and cucumbers, it means they can rely a little bit less on the grocery store. That can save money and ensure access to food if the grocery store supply chain gets interrupted.

Microgrids have been around for years in limited capacities, serving critical facilities like military bases or large campuses. Recently, however, microgrids have gone mainstream and are seen as an essential component for the future of clean energy generation and reliable and resilient energy systems.

Reliability. Clean energy. Cost savings.  

The potential benefits of microgrids are three-fold. A microgrid can:

  • Deliver greater power reliability and protection against threats by decentralizing energy delivery into geographic areas with localized control.
  • Facilitate the expansion of localized, renewable energy by providing a core platform for individuals or organizations to pool resources in a secure ‘co-op’ of power.
  • Deliver economic benefits by providing customers greater control over their use of energy from the larger electric grid versus local energy sources, and therefore, over their energy costs.

“As the need for increased security and resilience rises, and the demand for localized, renewable power grows, microgrids will become a core component of the grid infrastructure of tomorrow,” said Anne Pramaggiore, president and CEO, ComEd. “The Bronzeville microgrid project is a foundational step to prepare for a bright future of more dynamic energy systems and new technologies that provide more security and flexibility in managing energy use.”

Why Bronzeville?

Bronzeville was chosen for ComEd’s first microgrid project because it offers a diverse range of customers, including single- and multi-family residences, large commercial and small businesses. It also is home to critical public infrastructure, such as hospitals and public works facilities. Bronzeville’s location is also ideal to connect to a microgrid on the nearby campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, creating one of the most advanced clustered urban microgrids in the United States.

The first phase of the project is expected to be completed in 2019, and its performance, impact, and cost benefit will be studied over 10 years.