Generally speaking, a microgrid is a localized power grid that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a microgrid's ability to operate while the main grid is down means microgrids can strengthen grid resilience and mitigate disturbances, while enabling faster system response and recovery once reconnected to the main grid. Microgrids can also support flexibility and efficiency, by enabling the integration of growing deployments of renewable and distributed energy resources like solar, and by reducing energy losses in transmission and distribution.
A "community microgrid" could be defined in several ways, but a typical definition focuses on a multi-user microgrid providing electrical and/or thermal energy to multiple consumers, integrated with and supported by the local community, relevant utilities, and building or site owners. As with other microgrids, a community microgrid implementation could reduce energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while providing increased energy resilience.
While federal support for microgrids has existed for years, states are now becoming active in exploring how microgrids can help meet society's energy needs and policy goals. Massachusetts is one hotbed of interest in microgrids, and a recently announced program could help stimulate the microgrid industry. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s (MassCEC) Community Microgrids Program anticipates providing about $75,000 in funding to support each of 3 to 5 prospective community microgrid projects with the following characteristics:
- Are community, multi-user microgrids (as opposed to single owner or campus-style microgrids) located in Massachusetts -- but MassCEC will consider proposals from Applicants with an existing campus wishing to extend the microgrid to additional parties outside of its borders;
- Demonstrate significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the integration of energy efficiency, Combined Heat and Power (“CHP”), renewable energy systems, electric and/or thermal storage technologies, demand management, energy efficiency, and other relevant technologies;
- Have the active and engaged support of the local utility (either investor-owned or municipal light plants) and other relevant stakeholders;
- Encompass a public or private critical facility, including but not limited to schools, hospitals, shelters, libraries, grocery stores, service (gas) stations, fire/police stations or waste water treatment plants;
- Support the distribution system by addressing capacity concerns, providing black start capability, facilitating renewables integration, or providing other services that are meaningful to the local utility;
- Attract third party investment; and
- Highlight Massachusetts-based clean energy/microgrid technology.
MassCEC is presently soliciting Expressions of Interest from groups interested in participating in feasibility assessments for community microgrid projects meeting its defined criteria. According to MassCEC, respondents may include municipalities and their public works departments, electric distribution companies, municipal light plants, emergency services departments, owners of critical infrastructure such as hospitals and financial institutions, self-organized groups of commercial building owners, developers or any other actor that either owns property within a potential microgrid or can demonstrate that they represent stakeholders with the capability of developing a community microgrid. Support from the local government and the relevant electric or gas distribution company is also required.
MassCEC says it intends its funding to support feasibility assessments to advance the selected microgrid projects through the early project origination stages, enabling them to attract third-party investment. Projects that produce a favorable feasibility assessment may then be eligible for additional technical assistance or grants for later stages of project development
Completed expressions of interest, including all required documentation, must be received by MassCEC by Friday, June 23, 2017 by 4:00pm. MassCEC anticipates awarding the first round of feasibility assessments in Q3 2017.