Community Microgrids

Bringing communities an unparalleled trifecta of economic, environmental, and resilience benefits

What is a Community Microgrid?

A Community Microgrid is a coordinated local grid area served by one or more distribution substations and supported by high penetrations of local renewables and other distributed energy resources (DER), such as energy storage and demand response.

Community Microgrids represent a new approach for designing and operating the electric grid, relying heavily on DER to achieve a more sustainable, secure, and cost-effective energy system while providing indefinite, renewables-driven backup power for prioritized loads. Community Microgrids provide communities unparalleled economic, environmental, and resilience benefits.

The path to Community Microgrids

We have the technology to widely deploy Community Microgrids, but we need to advance policies and market mechanisms to unleash this untapped market.

Deploying a true Community Microgrid requires utility cooperation, which has been slow to come. The Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid (RCAM), being staged in Northern California in partnership with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), provides an example of the what can be done with utility cooperation.

RCAM, the first front-of-meter (FOM), multi-customer microgrid in Northern California, is staging to be the leading Community Microgrid showcase in California — and potentially the country. RCAM will provide lessons that can inform future Community Microgrid projects, such as a potential microgrid tariff.

To achieve our Community Microgrid vision, the Clean Coalition is designing and staging numerous Solar Microgrids at critical community facilities, which will be ready to connect to larger Community Microgrids when they are available. Many of these Solar Microgrids are in the Goleta Load Pocket in the Santa Barbara region of Southern California, such as the Solar Microgrids we are staging for the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD). See more on our Community Microgrid and Solar Microgrid work here.

Community Microgrids compared to traditional microgrids

Community Microgrids, as their name implies, serve entire communities. They provide numerous benefits to those communities, and to the electric grid — and they differ in many respects from traditional microgrids:

Feature Community Microgrid Traditional microgrid
Scale Spans an entire substation grid area, benefitting thousands of customers. Covers a single customer location or a small number of adjacent locations.
DER location Usually installed in front of the meter (on the side of the electric grid). Usually installed behind the meter (on the owner’s property)
Cost Lowers costs by identifying optimal DER locations, deploying DER more broadly, and providing scalability. Maximizes benefits for a single customer and does little for the grid. Replicating is very expensive.
Resilience, security Provides indefinite backup power to prioritized loads that are critical to an entire community. Provides limited backup power to only a single location or customer.
Scalability Enables easy replication and scaling across any distribution grid area. Requires tedious work to implement at each individual location.

Traditional microgrids focus on single customers:

Source: Oncor Electric Delivery Company

Community Microgrids cover an entire distribution substation grid area and serve thousands of customers:

Source: Oncor Electric Delivery Company

Serving as models for modernizing America’s electrical system in the most intelligent manner possible, Community Microgrid demonstration projects will help realize the Clean Coalition’s vision: From 2025 onward, at least 25% of all electricity generated from newly added generation capacity in the United States will be from local renewable energy sources.

While deploying a true Community Microgrid requires utility cooperation, standalone microgrids are becoming more common around California and the US.

In addition to the Clean Coalition’s projects detailed here, we have compiled a list of some of the microgrids around the country, including in California.

See a sampling of microgrids around the country here. >>

Community Microgrid features

  • Leverages high penetrations of local renewables and other distributed energy resources to achieve desired level of grid reliability, power quality, and resilience.
  • Includes the ability to island critical loads using monitoring, communications, and controls (MC2), which can also provide services to the grid.
  • Uses efficient load design, including local balancing and load flattening, to reduce costly peaks and transmission costs.
  • Establishes a scalable solution spanning one or more substations.

A microgrid can be staged to be Community-Microgrid-ready by including MC2 to allow interaction with a broader Community Microgrid, whether that Community Microgrid is available today or prospective for the future.

A beneficial solution

Community Microgrids incorporate local renewables into the existing utility grid, offering these significant advantages over centralized generation:

  • A stronger local economy: Attract private investment, create jobs, and keep energy dollars close to home.
  • A more resilient power system: Cost-effectively enhance grid reliability and security, as well as power quality, through diversified energy portfolio and local balancing of energy supply and demand — and provide indefinite, renewables-driven backup power to critical facilities.
  • Affordable and stable energy prices: Secure predictable, affordable energy prices by protecting consumers from volatile costs of fossil fuels and rising costs of delivering energy over expensive long-distance transmission lines.
  • A cleaner, healthier environment: Replace the need for gas-fired peaker plants and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, minimize water use, and preserve pristine lands by siting local renewables on rooftops, parking lots, and other underused spaces within the built environment.

A scalable and replicable solution

The Clean Coalition’s Community Microgrid Initiative will provide a standard methodology that any community can use to optimize and streamline the deployment of local renewable energy.

Rather than continuing the slow process of evaluating local renewable energy projects one at a time, the Community Microgrid Initiative will create a fast pathway to bring clean local energy online. Modeling large areas of the distribution grid makes it efficient to identify greater distributed generation opportunities and establish streamlined deployment plans. This systemwide approach enables large amounts of local renewables to come online in months rather than years.

Through a combination of advanced distribution grid modeling and cost scenario analysis, the Clean Coalition is creating a replicable and scalable method for deployment of local renewables.

Elements of a Community Microgrid

Why we need Community Microgrids

The United States’ power system, built on century-old technology and approaches, was designed to deliver electricity from large, remote power plants across significant distances to the cities and towns where electricity is actually used. Now, however, locally sited renewable energy generation has become economically competitive with centralized generation and offers a superior approach for a vastly improved power system.

In addition, our centralized power system is highly vulnerable to extreme weather events, which are occurring more frequently. Since 1980, the US has experienced over 270 weather and climate disasters that had overall damages/costs of at least $1 billion (adjusted to 2020 dollars) — with the total cost exceeding $1.79 trillion. The year 2017 was the most costly for domestic disasters in US history, with 16 weather or climate events with losses exceeding $1 billion, and a total estimated cost of $306 billion.

Source: National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration

2019 was the sixth consecutive year with 10 or more weather and climate disaster events that caused losses exceeding $1 billion each in the US — and as of 8 July 2020 the US had already been hit with 10 of these events.

Source: National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration

Yet, utility executives and policymakers are reluctant to embrace local renewables due to fears that the existing power system cannot reliably integrate distributed energy generation. These grid reliability concerns have effectively limited local renewables to providing no more than 15% of peak power needs. Without empirical proof that the power grid can integrate greater amounts of local renewables in a cost-effective manner, this 15% limit will continue to slow the nation’s transition toward our clean energy future.

To overcome this reluctance, and to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of high penetrations of local renewables, the Clean Coalition established the Community Microgrid Initiative. The Community Microgrid Initiative is designed to achieve Community Microgrid demonstration projects that prove that local renewables connected to the distribution grid can provide at least 25% of the total electric energy consumed while maintaining grid reliability and power quality. Serving as models for modernizing America’s electrical system in the most intelligent manner possible, these Community Microgrid demonstration projects will help realize the Clean Coalition’s vision: From 2025 onward, at least 25% of all electricity generated from newly added generation capacity in the United States will be from local renewable energy sources.

The value-of-resilience (VOR123)

Everyone understands that there is significant value to the resilience provided by indefinite renewables-driven backup power with Community Microgrids. The Clean Coalition has developed a methodology to quantify this value, VOR123.

Our VOR123 methodology makes it simple to quantify VOR by standardizing VOR for three tiers of loads — critical, priority, and discretionary loads — across all facility types:

  • Tier 1: Mission-critical, life-sustaining loads that warrant 100% resilience — usually about 10% of a facility’s total load.
  • Tier 2: Priority loads that should be maintained as long as doing so does not threaten the ability to maintain Tier 1 loads — usually about 15% of the total load.
  • Tier 3: Discretionary loads that should be maintained only when doing so does not threaten Tier 1 and Tier 2 resilience — usually about 75% of the total load.
Percentage of time online for Tier 1, 2, and 3 loads for a Solar Microgrid designed for the University of California Santa Barbara with enough solar to achieve net zero and enough energy storage capacity to hold 2 hours of the nameplate solar (200 kWh energy storage per 100 kW solar).

Read more about VOR123 here >>

Transitioning our energy system

It’s time to modernize our energy system and move it into the present. What worked in the past is no longer viable. Our centralized power grid is so last century, as our friends at the World Business Academy explain in this excellent video:

The future is here — in the form of Community Microgrids.

Key stakeholders for Community Microgrid success

For a Community Microgrid Initiative to be successful, all key community stakeholders must be aligned. These key stakeholders include property owners, residents, philanthropic funders, financiers, solution providers, utilities, policymakers, and municipalities. Participation by the local utility, one of the most important key stakeholders, is essential in order for a Community Microgrid to interconnect within the existing distribution grid.

 

Our 25 by 25 vision

From 2025 onward, at least 25% of all electricity generated from newly added generation capacity in the United States will be from local renewable energy sources.

Learn more

Our Community Microgrid Initiative

Learn about the Clean Coalition's Community Microgrid projects, showcases for a replicable and scalable model — and pathways to "25 by 25."

See our projects

Community Microgrid configurations

The Clean Coalition is focusing on Community Microgrid configurations that incorporate combinations of various factors.

See the Community Microgrid configurations

Our regulatory filings on microgrids

Recent news

The latest in clean local energy

Learn about our innovative projects and initiatives on our blog, and see what others are reporting about our important work.

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