Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
A state program has helped dozens of Massachusetts organizations explore the potential costs and benefits of pooling energy resources with their neighbors.
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center awarded grants to study the feasibility of 14 community microgrid projects. Unlike standard microgrids that tend to serve just one property owner, community microgrids incorporate multiple stakeholders and as a result are far more complicated to plan and build.
The goal is to power critical local facilities in a way that improves community resilience in case of disaster and promises substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Each project received up to $75,000 to investigate the logistics and cost of building a community microgrid. The grantees can also take advantage of technical advice from industry experts.
“Microgrids really provide a sneak preview of our future electric grid,” said Galen Nelson, chief program officer at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. “We’re funding feasibility studies to figure out what role they’ll play and how to make them function well.”
Microgrids of all kinds have been attracting more attention in recent years. These smaller-scale, self-contained systems generate power for connected consumers and often include battery storage that allows them to access electricity even if the grid is down. When connected to renewable sources like solar panels or wind turbines, these arrangements can reduce energy costs, cut carbon emissions, and make facilities more resilient in the face of emergencies.
Community microgrids are an emerging sector within this field. The expansion from a single-owner model can amplify the benefits of a microgrid, but it can also make the project much more complex to design and implement. Planners have to consider which facilities and members get priority if available power is limited, how the financial burdens and benefits are to be shared, and if the proposed site is appropriate for the solar panels, wind turbines, or batteries the system would need.