ComEd Taps Enchanted Rock for Bronzeville Microgrid

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Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) has selected Enchanted Rock to provide 5.5 MW in dispatchable natural gas-fired generation to support the Bronzeville community microgrid under development in Chicago.

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The Illinois Institute of Technology is part of the Bronzeville microgrid cluster. Shutterstock.com

“Enchanted Rock will help us ensure the Bronzeville microgrid provides continuous power in the event of a major interruption, and it will do so cost effectively and with lower emissions,” said Michelle Blaise, senior vice president of technical services at ComEd, an Exelon utility.

The Bronzeville microgrid on Chicago’s South Side includes 750 kW of solar and a 500 kW battery system that can run continuously for four hours. The equipment, along with a master microgrid operator, was installed in the project’s first phase.

The microgrid is connected to an existing microgrid at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which is centered around a combined heat and power unit.

The project creates the nation’s first utility-operated microgrid cluster and provides an opportunity to study the interaction and sharing of energy resources, according to Enchanted Rock.

Enchanted Rock, based in Houston, will own the Bronzeville dispatchable generation, according to Allan Schurr, Enchanted Rock chief commercial officer.

Generation will dispatch into PJM

When the generation isn’t being called on to serve the community microgrid, Enchanted Rock can dispatch it into the PJM Interconnection, which improves the project’s economics, Schurr said.

The front-of-the-meter generation is expected to be operating within a year, which will bring the microgrid into full operation, according to Schurr.

The microgrid covers the area with about 7 MW of load, and it includes more than 1,000 mainly residential and small commercial customers who typically can’t afford systems to provide heightened grid resiliency, Schurr said. The Chicago Police and Fire Department headquarters are among the critical infrastructure within the microgrid.

The project is helping to reinvigorate the Bronzeville neighborhood while providing the highest level of resiliency, he added.

Enchanted Rock is focused on California, Texas, PJM and the Northeast, according to Schurr. The company has more than 200 microgrids totaling about 300 MW and is building about 150 MW in microgrid capacity.

Schurr said prime sectors for Enchanted Rock’s resiliency service include healthcare, data centers, high-value manufacturing, universities, retail and logistics.

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ComEd report describes broad benefits

The project provides resiliency benefits to critical infrastructure, a community and the broader energy system, according to a cost-benefit report the utility filed in late December with the ICC.

“Microgrids can benefit day-to-day operations, benefit the economy of a region and enhance reliability (for the grid and for individual customers),” the utility said.

The project’s battery system is being used to firm the microgrid’s solar output, ComEd said. 

The utility’s microgrid investment may help consistently reduce peak load through synergies of voltage optimization, energy efficiency, demand response and the use of photovoltaics with energy storage, according to ComEd.

“Over time, these synergies would allow microgrid resources to be used over a larger portion of the grid, thereby extending (scaling up) other benefits, such as reliability improvement, to a somewhat larger footprint (that is, encompassing more customers),” ComEd said.

The project’s distributed solar generation and battery system may also improve public health by displacing fossil fueled generation that produces soot and greenhouse gas emissions, according to the utility. 

As the project progresses, ComEd said it may use the Bronzeville community microgrid to attract additional research and development funding. 

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