Commissioner Esty recently spoke with CSG/ERC Energy & Environment Program staff about Connecticut’s first-in-the nation microgrid pilot, which will test a range of engineering, technological and policy approaches to keeping critical facilities operating when the main grid loses power.
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Note: This video is part of a new CSG/ERC series intended to inform our members about innovative policies being implemented in our region. The views expressed in our video podcasts do not represent official CSG/ERC policy positions.
Pilot Overview: Reimagining the Grid of the 21st Century
Following a spate of severe storms in recent years that led to widespread, prolonged power outages across Connecticut, state officials have taken a series of steps to strengthen the electricity system to make it more resilient to the impacts of extreme weather. Central to this effort is Public Act 12-148, signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy last year, which creates a first-in-the nation statewide Microgrid Pilot Program that will test a range of engineering, technological and policy approaches to keeping critical facilities operating when the main grid loses power.
A microgrid is a small-scale, integrated electricity generation and distribution system that can be managed locally and independently from the broader power grid. The system is powered by onsite, distributed generation that can include a combination of power sources, depending on the system’s design. They include natural-gas turbines, diesel generators, fuel cells, anaerobic digesters powered by methane from sewage-treatment plants, solar arrays and wind turbines.
As part of the first phase of Connecticut’s pilot program, the General Assembly allocated an initial $18 million to fund nine small-scale projects across the state. The microgrids being developed are intended to provide electricity around the clock to a range of facilities in the case of a power outage, and will have the ability to “island,” or isolate, from the larger grid when it goes down.
“We think this is breaking through to a new model, a new approach to what the electricity system of the twenty-first century is going to look like,” said Daniel Esty, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which is overseeing the state’s microgrid pilot. “I think there are a lot of folks out there who have begun to conclude that we can’t be as reliant on a few big power plants, that the idea and the logic of distributed generation is quite significant.”
Recipients of the first round of funding include universities, hospitals, local emergency-response facilities and commercial centers.
Alex Kragie, special assistant to Commissioner Esty, said the microgrid pilot is part of a broader initiative that Connecticut officials are implementing to modernize the electricity system. “There are obviously lots of aspects of the microgrids that require a smart grid by definition,” said Kragie. “You have to have hardware and software in place that will allow for this islandable capacity to be active during an outage situation. The microgrid is part of this smarter grid initiative that is happening across the state.”
While the concept of a microgrid is not new, it is increasingly being embraced by state and local officials in eastern states seeking to make the power system more resilient in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and other massive storms that have caused widespread electricity-system outages. Microgrids have long been utilized by commercial entities and universities, and in recent years, they have been developed by the military as a way to ensure a more secure power supply. Connecticut is partnering with the Department of Defense, which has made a commitment to installing microgrids at a number of its critical facilities.
Gov. Dannel Malloy has recommended that an additional $30 million be allocated to the pilot program over the next two years.
More information on Connecticut’s Microgrid Pilot Program:
Information on microgrid projects in other states:
New York and California are two states that have been moving to promote microgrids in recent years. For more information see:
Microgrids: An Assessment of the Value, Opportunities and Barriers to Deployment in New York State, Prepared for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, September 2010.
The California Energy Commission has supported a range of microgrid efforts. Here are two press releases announcing recent projects: