Utility-Scale Microgrid Cluster to Power Up Chicago Neighborhood

The rise of renewables has helped launch other related energy technologies, such as storage and efficiency. Microgrids can trace their increasing popularity to this same phenomenon, as providers look for ways to manage distributed generation and decrease reliance on an aging grid infrastructure.

Officials in the state of Illinois have embraced microgrid technology. In February, The Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) approved a plan by Chicago-based utility ComEd to construct what it touts as one of the first utility-scale microgrid clusters in the nation.

The project will be located in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. It has received more than $5 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The demonstration project will enable the study of how microgrids support the integration of clean energy onto the grid and increase grid security to keep power flowing even during extreme weather or a catastrophic event.

President and CEO of ComEd, Anne Pramaggiore, said the project "will provide critical learnings on how to protect against and recover from disruptive events, including extreme weather, as well as physical or cyber-attacks."

The project will be located within the Bronzeville neighborhood, in an area bounded from 33rd Street to the North, 38th Street to the South, State Street to the West, and South Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Drive to the East. It will serve an area that includes 10 facilities providing critical services, including the Chicago Public Safety Headquarters, the De La Salle Institute and the Math & Science Academy, a library, public works buildings, restaurants, health clinics, public transportation, educational facilities, and churches.

The new microgrid will connect with an existing microgrid on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology. This connection creates what Joe Svachula, ComEd's vice president of engineering and smart grid technology, describes as one of the most advanced clustered urban microgrids in the United States.

Phase I of the project will include 2.5 megawatts (MW) of load and require reconfiguration of an existing feeder and installation of battery storage and solar photovoltaics. It will directly serve approximately 490 customers.

Phase II of the project will add approximately 570 customers and an additional 4.5 MW of load and 7 MW of distributed energy resources, enough to meet the peak electricity demand of customers within the microgrid footprint and maintain service when the microgrid is islanded from ComEd's grid.

The completed project will serve approximately 1,060 residential, commercial, and small industrial customers.

The microgrid is expected to be completed in 2019, and its performance and impact, including a cost benefit analysis, will be studied over approximately 10 years.

About the Author

Rick Laezman

Freelance Writer

Rick Laezman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who has been covering renewable power for more than 10 years. He may be reached at richardlaezman@msn.com.

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