What does it mean to be resilient? Although the definition may vary slightly when referring to a specific kind of resilience, the foundational premise is the same: resilience is sustained stability and the ability to rebound in the face of adversity.
This question is the foundation of a partnership between Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), one of the largest electric utilities in the United States, and the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) at Columbia University. The partnership will take a deep look at the kinds of vulnerabilities that exist in communities across our nation, and examine how interdisciplinary partnerships, particularly between industry and academia, can work together to build community resilience.
As part of the partnership, this post kicks off a series about the resilient grid of the future and new ways electric utilities can address vulnerabilities to climate and disaster — by making intentional changes to infrastructure beyond structural components alone, and engendering an economic and social ecosystem of resilience. For this first post, we’ll be focusing on the potential of microgrids.
Increasing Energy Resilience
While the traditional electric grid is one of humanity’s greatest innovations, new resilience-building technologies are allowing us to enhance that foundational system, providing the capability to leverage distributed energy resources (that is, small-scale power generation and energy storage) and improve energy resilience through microgrids and other innovations. Electric utilities all over the world are addressing community vulnerabilities to climate change and related disasters by investing in microgrid technology, a unique energy system that can provide power to a community by operating in conjunction with the grid or independently.
As electric utilities begin to focus on resilience at the local level, academic institutions like NCDP are researching the complexities and vulnerabilities that put communities at risk from major disasters, focusing on system readiness across the United States. From a national lens, the community microgrid model is of particular interest, demonstrating how attention to local energy resilience builds capacity for regional response and recovery.
The microgrid ComEd is installing in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, the Bronzeville Community Microgrid, is part of the first utility-operated microgrid cluster in the nation, and it is demonstrating what increased energy resilience looks like for a community and nearby areas. The Bronzeville microgrid is projected to provide more than 1,000 residences, businesses, and public institutions with a new layer of defense when it comes to storm-related power outages. Not only that, keeping the power on in Bronzeville means that surrounding areas can utilize the neighborhood as an oasis in times of great need, extending the benefits of energy resilience.
Increasing Economic Resilience
Enhanced energy resilience can have direct and indirect impacts on a community’s economic health as well. Although investment in microgrid technology can be costly, microgrids often result in lower energy costs for customers and businesses due to their efficiency in managing energy supply and the access they provide to the energy market. Solar panels installed as part of the Bronzeville Community Microgrid at nearby Dearborn Homes public housing development in 2019 serve as an opportunity to demonstrate future economic resilience. As a Chicago Housing Authority property, Dearborn Homes is now part of a solution to drive decarbonization in the neighborhood and fuel economic growth through the green jobs that come with installation and maintenance, and lower energy costs for residents.