US utility Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) is embarking on a microgrid in Bronzeville, a neighbourhood and district in the community area of Douglas, Chicago.The project received a US$4 million grant from the US Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative to deploy solar power and battery storage technology, in a bid to keep the state police department headquarters operational, as well as other critical buildings, such as medical centers, running in the event of a power outage.

The microgrid in Bronzeville has the ability to disconnect and function independently from the larger grid. According to The Chicago Tribune, the mini-grid “offers stability in the case of a mass power outage and provides cyber security.”

The senior vice president of Technical Services at ComEd, Michelle Blaise, said that the microgrid will begin with solar power and storage, serving approximately 800 customers and could potentially build upon that.

In statement by Mohammad Shahidehpour, director of the Robert W. Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation at Illinois Tech, likened microgrid technology to building a house.

He said: “We keep adding to it [microgrid]. You build the house, but you keep decorating.”

ComEd and Illinois Tech partner on microgrid project

[quote] The Illinois Institute of Technology has already built a fully operational microgrid and is assisting ComEd with the project.

The institute completed its microgrid in 2013 and averages 9 MW, and has what it requires to operate more than 50 campus buildings independently from the grid.

Shahidehpour said that the microgrid saves the university US$1 million reduces the school’s greenhouse gas emissions by 7%.

The microgrid serving the Illinois Institute of Technology consists of a battery, natural gas unit, solar and wind generators, a control unit that determines the best time to use certain kinds of energy and monitors the power loads in buildings.

Shahidehpour added: “If ever there was a major catastrophe in the metro area in Chicago, we’ll be able to run it.”

Additionally, ComEd received a US$1.2 million grant in 2014 allowed the utility to work with Illinois Tech and Argonne National Laboratory to create a master control system that will allow two microgrids share power.