Chicago gains one of nation’s first neighborhood-scale community microgrids

Published on May 29, 2024 by Chris Galford

© Bronzeville Community Microgrid

Backed by grant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and led by ComEd, the Bronzeville Community Microgrid (BCM) entered service this month, becoming one of the first of its kind in the United States.

While microgrids are nothing new, the BCM is one of the first neighborhood-scale community microgrids. It is supported by rooftop and ground-mounted solar systems at the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) Dearborn Homes property, which provides it with enough power to support approximately 1,000 customers.

“The electric grid plays a key role in powering lives for our customers and communities, rain or shine, and we’re committed to deploying cutting-edge technologies that will harden the system against storms, severe weather, and cyber threats,” Gil Quiniones, ComEd president and CEO, said. “The Bronzeville microgrid plays an essential role in preparing communities for an equitable clean energy transition and will deliver important benefits to boost power resiliency for over 1,000 customers on the City of Chicago’s south side. Thanks to the DOE and countless community partners who have given feedback through the design and testing process, we are thrilled to switch on the Bronzeville microgrid and to leverage new and emerging tech to enhance the experience of our customers here in Chicago and across northern Illinois.”

As a proof of concept, Bronzeville had its share of attractive qualities in its customers, but also the Chicago Police headquarters and other critical infrastructure. Come 2025, the BCM will also join with the microgrid at the Illinois Institute of Technology to create another unique item for the country: a utility operated microgrid cluster. Once connected, the two should allow resources to be shared and enhance resilience against grid disruptions.

“The Bronzeville Community Microgrid is an innovative, forward-thinking sustainable solar project. It has a tangible effect on the Chicago Housing Authority’s operations budget for Dearborn Homes, where these rooftop and ground-mounted arrays are generating about 10 percent of the annual electrical usage across 17 buildings, which are home to 660 families,” Tracey Scott, CHA CEO, said. “It is just one piece of CHA’s sustainability goals. We are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions across our portfolio and transitioning to clean energy. This all amounts to great news for CHA, its residents, and the environment.”

It took nearly a decade of collaboration to pull off, but the project is now in service, using a mix of software from Siemens USA, 750 kW of solar photovoltaic, and 500kW/2 MWh of battery energy storage. It will be able to isolate itself and create an island for its community in the event of disruptions to the main grid.

Going forward, IIT and ComEd will also study the microgrid and, eventually, the cluster microgrid, to better understand any associated values for future considerations.