What Are Microgrids?

Microgrids are the key to energy resiliency, and with nearly all the northeast and many other regions across the nation facing the possibility of power shortages and increased outages due to extreme weather, the timing couldn’t be better for energy solutions that increase resiliency.

A microgrid is defined by the Department of Energy as “a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island-mode.” Clean-energy microgrids are supplied by local solar or other renewable energy sources. This means that when the larger grid fails, your power stays on while it’s supplied by the solar and storage (typically batteries) on site.

How Does It Work?

Local energy generation and storage provide resiliency to each site. Connections among these sites make it a microgrid. The method for energy generation, and the means of connection, can change depending on each circumstance. Solar microgrids, for example, are a case where energy is generated by solar panels which may be connected to the larger grid, as well as the on-site battery storage.

The key benefit that differentiates microgrids is their ability to ”island” from the grid in the event of an emergency. This means that when the larger grid shuts down, folks can prosper in place- drawing energy from the microgrid’s on-site storage instead. Critical services like wifi and cellular service carry throughout an outage. In our designs, we also incorporate as many energy efficiency and design upgrades as possible to maximize the benefits of the microgrid. This could include two-way EV charging, a bio-fueled generator, satellite hotspots, healthy home upgrades, and other features depending on the nature of the specific project.

For communities and municipalities within dense urban areas, however, finding space for a battery large enough to carry the building’s loads, and finding roof space to house the solar panels, is a major challenge. That’s why CESI has invented a new structure for microgrids called Microgrids Without Borders™ which is flexible to the sizing, financial, and spacing constraints of each project. Learn more about our ongoing Microgrid Without Borders™ projects.

In this design, buildings participating in the microgrid do not have to be contiguous or connected by physical wires. Rather, we can aggregate the loads of each facility virtually through cloud-based controllers which communicate wirelessly to maximize the scale and financial benefits of the microgrid.

Key Design Features

Neighborhood leadership in design approvals, financing, and ownership

Microgrid Without Borders design is expandable to any facility

Innovative demand-side design creates the potential for a Virtual Power Plant

Taking advantage of the myriad of state and financial incentives for renewable energy generation and storage, a microgrid without borders is typically able to finance itself within a payback period of 5 to 10 years. We work with communities to understand the equity, energy, resilience, and financial needs of that area to customize a microgrid energy solution to their priorities. We utilize a network of partners to create a team of experts that will be able to take each project where it needs to go, from financing to energy efficiency, to energy storage, generation, educational outreach, and maintenance.

What Does CESI Do For Your Project?

Initial Outreach and Scoping
Initial Scoping Call
Project Team Building
Potential Site Identification
Identifying Funding Sources
Community Outreach

Phase one consists of preliminary research and planning, which starts by collaborating with a community-based organization and the local jurisdiction to discuss their interest and objectives in developing a microgrid project within the community. Project stakeholders are identified in collaboration with the CBO, and the Project Team is formed from these stakeholder groups and relevant experts. Potential sites are identified and explored by CESI and the Project Team, including the location of a community resilience hub, while CESI sources federal and state-level funding opportunities that could be applied to the project. Finally, CESI works with its community-based partner to facilitate outreach to the potential future customer base for the microgrid to understand their needs and priorities so that the project can reflect them.

Formal Site Identification
Energy Auditing
Feasibility Study
Town Communication and Outreach

Phase two begins with the formal identification of sites best suited for the project based on community priorities, technical and economic considerations. CESI then conducts an energy audit of these sites to identify the energy efficiency, siting, and sizing needs of a given building. These findings are then gathered and used to draft a feasibility study, which will detail a proposal for the microgrid project, including its technical and financial viability. CESI then facilitates communication with local governance to discuss funding as well as project milestone updates.

Ownership Model

Phase three is centered around planning and implementation, including gathering partners for the execution of the project. Among other partners, CESI identifies and contracts with equipment vendors, technical consultants, general contractors, and a community solar partner on behalf of the community. Additionally, CESI completes its project financing in this stage, detailing the efficient and timely phasing of the project and all necessary funding. Finally, CESI utilizes community feedback gathered in Phase One to design a customized ownership model for the project that centers ownership by and for those whom the microgrid is designed to serve.

Installation Management
Final Concept Design and Planning

Phase four includes final conceptual designs being put in place in collaboration with the municipal/community stakeholders and the CESI team. A request for proposal (RFP) is opened for the contracting opportunities, and construction begins shortly thereafter. Construction starts with energy efficiency retrofits on an as-needed basis, and then the primary components of the Microgrid design are installed.

Operation and Maintenance
O&M Contractor
Scope of Services and Oversight

The fifth and final phase is concerned with post-installation management, during which CESI and municipal/community stakeholders identify an Operations and Maintenance contractor who is responsible for the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the project. At this point, CESI develops a Scope of Service document to detail the achievement of project benefits outlined during the first phase and remains in an oversight capacity for the life of the system’s operation.

Highlighted Projects

Chelsea Community Microgrid Feasibility Assessment
Chinatown Community Microgrid Feasibility Assessment

Interested in learning more about the possibility of a microgrid for your community?