Back in 2016, Chicago-area utility Commonwealth Edison unveiled its plan for a “community of the future” in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, the city’s center of Black history and culture. The idea was to install backup generators and grid controls that could provide local residents and critical services such as hospitals and nursing homes with always-on power when the grid fails, as well as support the growth of rooftop solar, batteries and electric vehicles.
Six years later, the $25 million initiative is on the cusp of becoming the country’s first neighborhood-scale microgrid — and it’s a project that could serve as a model for utilities and communities across the country.
Last month, ComEd and the U.S. Department of Energy completed the final tests indicating that the microgrid’s natural-gas-fired generators, rooftop solar systems, batteries and advanced grid-control systems can successfully disconnect and reconnect to the larger grid. That’s a key proving point for the project’s goal of being able to power more than 1,000 residences, businesses and public buildings, including Chicago police and fire department headquarters, during broader grid outages.
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