ComEd Goes For Gold in Bronzeville

The Chicago utility’s $25 million microgrid project could pave the way for advances in power reliability.

Shay Bahramirad of ComEd is directing the utilitys groundbreaking microgrid program in Chicagos Bronzeville neighborhood.
Shay Bahramirad of ComEd is directing the utility’s groundbreaking microgrid program in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.

The ComEd microgrid recently approved for Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood is a crucial step in the creation of the nation’s first utility-scale microgrid cluster and could point toward a new era in supply reliability. 

Also an early salvo in grid decentralization for Northern Illinois, the $25 million project has the potential to end power outages. That will likely mean a boost in commercial property values, along with an array of related benefits for owners of Bronzeville commercial properties. 

Property owners in this area are about to see their property values increase,” said David Chiesa, senior director, global business development with Chicago-based S & C Electric, which participated in the development of Illinois’ first major utility microgrid, unveiled by Ameren in Champaign last year.

When you can say you have more secure, reliable power, that makes your space more valuable,”  Chiesa argued. “This microgrid will likely enable property owners to more easily attract businesses and tenants, increase rental prices and have a higher overall resale value. They will also have the novelty of marketing properties and spaces covered by the only utility-scale microgrid in the Chicagoland area.”

The microgrid in Bronzeville will integrate with one operated by Illinois Institute of Technology (ITT), whose campus is on Bronzeville’s northern edge. Over the course of 10 years, Com Ed will study the functionality of the shared microgrids. Phase one of the project is slated for completion in 2019, followed closely by  the start of the second phase. Some 1,060 Bronzeville residential, commercial and light industrial customers will be directly served.

Mohammad Shahidehpour, director of the Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation at IIT, explained that the microgrid cluster will allow Bronzeville businesses and homes to manage loads, shifting non-essential loads to hours when rates are less costly. “Bringing controllable loads to commercial entities will allow them to lower their electricity payments,” he said. “The microgrid also allows for renewable local generation through batteries and renewable sources. If you have a battery in your microgrid, you can recharge after midnight and use it when prices are higher in the evening hours.”

Reliability sells

The greater reliability likely to be assured by the clustered microgrids should eliminate the expense of power outages, Chiesa said. “If owners look at their outage history, they can see how many times the lights have blinked, or blinked and stayed off,” he said.

For some of their tenants, even one blink could be very expensive. In the next two to five years, they will likely see all those outages disappear . . . Once the microgrid is up and running, greater power reliability will be a reality. These benefits should be complete by the beginning of 2020, according to ComEd’s plans.”

 Shay Bahramirad, ComEd’s director of distribution system planning, smart grid and innovation, calls resilience the number-one goal of the microgrid.

Today’s electric grid design maximizes reliability to keep the lights on in high-frequency, low-impact events like thunderstorms. But in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the cyberattacks in the Ukraine and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, “it’s just as important to focus on resilience,” Bahramirad said. “These are the low-frequency, high-impact events that can cause huge damages, and require the architecture of the system to evolve.”

Microgrids can also optimize integration of distributed energy resources like wind, PV and energy storage, providing property owners and operators with power resilience, efficiency and sustainability. ComEd’s microgrid represents an effort to not just integrate but promote distributed energy resources, Bahramirad said.

What we learn here will allow us to improve the operation of the entire grid for four million ComEd customers throughout Northern Illinois,” she concluded.