ComEd forges ahead with ambitious microgrid plans amid legislative debate
A $4M grant from the DOE could help ComEd build up to six microgrids in Chicago
e aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 left many utilities searching for ways to bolster grid resiliency. One of those ways included microgrids, which could accelerate a cleaner, more resilient grid, according to its supporters.
Illinois’ largest utility, Commonwealth Edison, is now undertaking plans to build at least one microgrid with funds from the Department of Energy, with hopes to build out at least five more depending on the outcome of pending legislation.
ComEd is using a $4 million award from the Department of Energy to install the infrastructure to support a microgrid in Chicago’s South Side.
The Illinois utility is one of three to receive awards under the Department of Energy (DOE)’s SHINES (Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar PV) program, which is designed to demonstrate the integration of solar technologies with energy storage and control technologie
Overall, the DOE awarded $18 million to six entities under the SHINES program, which falls under both DOE’s SunShot Initiative and its $220 million Grid Modernization Initiative (GMI) that was launched in January 2016.
GMI cuts across the different groups within the DOE and aims to field test solar, storage and associated smart power technologies that can pave the way to integrating more distributed solar power assets on to the grid.
Both SHINES and the SunShot Initiative, announced in February 2011, are within the DOE’s office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Within EERE, the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office has a fiscal year 2016 budget of $241.6 million.
SunShot itself funds research, development, demonstration, and deployment of projects aimed at driving down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06/kWh or $1/watt, exclusive of incentives.
ComEd’s planned Bronzeville solar-storage microgrid will be located and linked with an existing microgrid at the Illinois Institute of Technology, creating what the utility calls the first “microgrid cluster” in the world. That link is being built under a $1.2 million grant from the DOE that ComEd received in 2014. The SHINES project is expected to be completed in three years.
The proposed 10-MW Bronzeville microgrid project would serve as “a blueprint for other utility-owned microgrids around the country,” as well as “an important precursor to ComEd’s proposed development, via its Future Energy Plan legislation currently under consideration in Springfield, of six microgrids to protect critical public infrastructure in northern Illinois,” ComEd spokesman John Schoen said in an email.
In addition to promoting microgrids, the legislation would expand Illinois’ Smart Grid Law, passed in 2011, by broadening energy efficiency programs and increasing access to renewable energy sources.
The Bronzeville microgrid would be in the city’s South Side is near Chicago police headquarters. Other locations would include the Illinois Medical District in Chicago, DuPage County government complex, the Aurora Federal Aviation Administration facility, the Chicago Heights water pumping and treatment facility, and Rockford International Airport.
Overall ComEd is investing $2.6 billion infrastructure, half for modernization and half for the implementation of smart grid technology.
Much like ComEd’s smart grid project, “the legislation would bring a predictability that allows for more accurate future planning,” Schoen wrote.
Illinois’ microgrid future
Illinois is a restructured state that does not allow distribution utilities such as ComEd to own generation. That also means that utilities cannot put the cost of building or installing assets that might be considered generation into rate base.