Community Microgrids

We work with electric utilities to design and implement Community Microgrids that prove local renewables provide a reliable and cost-effective foundation for a modern grid.

A Community Microgrid is a distribution grid area served by one or more substations and supported by distributed energy resources (DER) – including local renewables – to ensure high reliability and power quality. A Community Microgrid is readily replicable and establishes a cost-effective foundation for Distribution Systems Operator (DSO) grid operations and high penetrations of local renewable resources. Generally, a Community Microgrid includes the ability to island the most critical loads served by the local distribution grid.


The United States’ power system, built on century-old technology and approaches, was designed to deliver electricity from large, remote power plants across significant distances to the cities and towns where electricity is actually used. However, locally sited renewable energy generation has become economically competitive with centralized generation and offers a superior approach for a vastly improved power system.

Yet, utility executives and policymakers are reluctant to embrace local renewables due to fears that the existing power system cannot reliably integrate distributed energy generation. These grid reliability concerns have effectively limited local renewables to providing no more than 15% of peak power needs. Without empirical proof that the power grid can integrate greater amounts of local renewables in a cost-effective manner, this 15% limit will continue to slow the nation’s transition towards a clean energy future.

To overcome this reluctance, the Clean Coalition established the Community Microgrid Initiative to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of high penetrations of local renewables. Working in partnership with electric utilities, the Community Microgrid Initiative is designed to achieve five Community Microgrid demonstration projects by year-end 2016 that prove local renewables connected to the distribution grid can provide at least 25% of the total electric energy consumed while at least maintaining grid reliability and power quality. These demonstration projects will serve as models for modernizing America’s electrical system in the most intelligent manner possible.DG+IG-Original-Image-(10_zf-20-May-2013)

A scalable and replicable solution

The Community Microgrid Initiative will accelerate the transition to renewable energy and a modern grid.  One important outcome will be a standard methodology that any utility can use to optimize and streamline the deployment of local renewable energy throughout its service territory.

Rather than continuing the painstakingly slow process of evaluating local renewable energy projects one at a time, the Community Microgrid Initiative will create a faster pathway to bring clean energy online.  By modeling large areas of the distribution grid, utilities and regulators can efficiently identify greater distributed generation opportunities and establish streamlined deployment plans.  This system-wide approach enables large amounts of local renewables to come online in months rather than years.

To achieve this, the Clean Coalition is collaborating with electric utilities and technology firms to ensure that grid modeling software enhances visibility and management of energy at the distribution grid level.  This advanced distribution grid modeling, which includes optimization analysis for both the location and mix of distributed energy resources, allows for a quick and accurate assessment of an individual substation’s potential capacity for local renewable energy.  Utilities can then rapidly deploy local renewables in communities based on simplified “integration” scenarios, such as:

  1. Lower Cost Capacity: the amount and location of local renewables that can be brought online, using existing voltage regulation and advanced inverters, with minimal investment in the distribution grid
  2. Medium Cost Capacity: the amount and location of local renewables that can be brought online with cost-effective storage and some investment in the distribution grid
  3. Higher Cost Capacity: the amount and location of local renewables that islands essential services with additional storage, local reserves, and more substantial investment in the distribution grid

These scenarios will guide utilities and regulators to determine appropriate local capacity targets for renewable energy and establish pathways to meet the specified goals.  This combination of advanced distribution grid modeling and cost scenario analysis creates a replicable and scalable method for deployment of local renewables.

A beneficial solution

Local energy generation offers significant advantages over centralized generation.  The Community Microgrid Initiative incorporates local renewables into the existing utility grid, which secures the following benefits:

  • A stronger local economy:  Community Microgrids attract private investment, create jobs, and keep energy dollars close to home.
  • A more resilient power system:  Community Microgrids enhance grid reliability and power quality through local balancing of supply and demand of energy using intelligent grid solutions – such as advanced inverters, demand response, and energy storage – and a diverse generation portfolio.
  • Affordable and stable energy prices:  Community Microgrids secure predictable and affordable energy prices by protecting consumers from the volatile costs of fossil fuels and the rising costs of delivering energy over long-distance transmission lines.
  • A cleaner, healthier environment:  Community Microgrids reduce greenhouse gas emissions, minimize water use, and preserve pristine lands by siting local renewables on rooftops, parking lots, and other underutilized spaces within the built environment.

Community Microgrid deployments

The Clean Coalition is already working with several utilities on Community Microgrid demonstration projects – most notably in San Francisco, CA. Other prospective locations include Palo Alto, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Long Island, NY; and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Hunters Point Community Microgrid Project

The flagship Community Microgrid project, being conducted in collaboration with Pacific Gas & Electric, is designed to transform the Bayview and Hunters Point areas of San Francisco into a world-class Community Microgrid. The Hunters Point Community Microgrid Project, named after the substation that serves the area, showcases how a utility can deploy higher levels of local renewables to secure economic, energy, and environmental benefits for its customers, which are detailed in the Hunters Point Community Microgrid Project Benefits Analysis. The Hunters Point Project also demonstrates that the technologies and methodologies required to deploy Community Microgrids are readily available today.

The Community Microgrid Initiative is accelerating the transformation of the electric utility sector. By demonstrating that locally sited renewables can cost-effectively and reliably replace centralized generation, the replicable demonstration projects will enable the rapid deployment of clean energy and robust grids in communities across the country.