Bronzeville Microgrid - Chicago, Illinois

The Bronzeville Microgrid project deployed in a neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago, Illinois demonstrates how utilities can invest in pilot microgrid projects to benefit underserved communities. Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd) implemented a 7.7 MW community microgrid that will provide service to approximately 770 customers in the historically black neighborhood of Bronzeville Chicago. The project, which is a key component of the utility’s “Community of the Future Initiative,” will serve an area that includes facilities that provide critical services, including hospitals, police headquarters, fire departments, a library, public works buildings, restaurants, health clinics, public transportation, educational facilities, and churches. Bronzeville, considered to be a climate vulnerable urban area, was selected using a data-driven process and based on many socioeconomic factors including income, public health, and lack of investment in the community’s existing infrastructure. 

The Bronzeville neighborhood was identified within ComEd’s service territory as the area that would most benefit from the additional resilience capabilities enabled by a microgrid. The area has experienced high winds, snow storms, extreme heat, and cold temperatures that have regularly threatened power distribution in the community. The microgrid went through a simulated islanding test where it successfully operated in April 2019 which marked the completion of the first phase of the project. The 2.5 megawatts of load in phase one included 484 kilowatts of solar panels on the Dearborn Homes public housing complex and a 500-kilowatt battery, as well as portable generation used for the test. The full microgrid construction is expected to be completed in the first half of 2020 and its performance and impact, including a cost benefit analysis, will be studied over the next 10 years. A broad range of metrics will be used to evaluate the project and its ability to positively impact the resilience of the overall energy system and of the Bronzeville community and its critical infrastructure.

Bronzeville, Chicago, a historically African American neighborhood which prospered after the great migration bought a wave of African Americans escaping the Jim Crow south, was selected for this project following a comprehensive study by the ICC which showed that in addition to being home to many critical public infrastructure that employs much of the community, such as hospitals and public headquarters, Bronzeville also has residents, businesses, and leaders who are highly engaged in efforts to continue invigorating the neighborhood. Although Bronzeville had rich beginnings, becoming Chicago’s epicenter of black working, middle, and upper-class culture and establishments, it was ultimately hit hard by The Great Depression with wide-scale unemployment to the neighborhood and the closure of many black-run businesses and financial institutions. Furthermore, came years of Chicago’s imposed segregation, redlining, and racial housing covenants which devastated the area in the post- World War II decades. Bronzeville’s housing stock was demolished and replaced with some of the country’s largest, most dense clusters of public housing causing many remaining middle and upper class residents to move once segregation laws eased, leaving behind a disproportionately low-income and unemployed community which ultimately led to high crime rates. The South Side Chicago neighborhood became disinvested as its demographics changed, and many of the dense public housing has been torn down due to crime and blight. The community remains largely African American with a population of about 42,600, and currently, approximately 43% of Bronzeville residents still live in low-income households earning less than $25,000 a year. Bronzeville has recently seen a steady increase in middle-income households as the community revitalizes itself thanks to many local community based economic development organizations and leaders - and is now home to the first utility-operated microgrid cluster.

Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd), a subsidiary of Exelon Corporation, is an energy delivery company that provides electric service to more than 4 million customers across northern Illinois, including Chicago. Exelon adopted a philosophy that building microgrids for community good, fits within the utility’s mission. The microgrid is a key component of ComEd’s “Community of the Future Initiative” in Bronzeville, where the utility is collaborating with residents to identify needs and opportunities to leverage smart grid technology and related services. The dual-pronged project is focused on developing advanced microgrid controller logic that can handle complex, grid-supportive situations as well as a parallel effort to explore the potential for large volumes of photovoltaic solar on microgrids when paired with stationary storage. Technology pilots underway include an electric vehicle transportation service, off-grid wind and solar-powered LED streetlights, outdoor interactive digital display technology providing community news, emergency alerts, wayfinding, and free Wi-Fi.

In addition to the microgrid direct resilience benefits for the community, ComEd has also been leading CONSTRUCT, which is a job training program that increased employment opportunities for minorities in its service areas. Hundreds of students have undergone this nine-week program, which provides the training and information needed to compete for entry level positions in construction-related fields to install technologies like microgrids. As part of the Future Energy Jobs Act, an additional $30 million funding was secured to develop the workforce still further, particularly for solar pipeline training programs, craft apprenticeships, and multicultural training for individuals from diverse and/or underserved backgrounds. ComEd is even collaborating with HFS Scholars to develop an innovative program to help talented high school students in the Chicago area from underprivileged backgrounds complete a project to support their efforts to excel in the field of engineering. Through the program, ComEd conducted an Ideathon that exposes Bronzeville high school students to the smart city and smart grid technologies and supports the development of skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

The Bronzeville microgrid drew criticism as a utility operated community microgrid project but two organizations - the Environmental Defense Fund, and an Illinois consumer group the Citizens Utility Board, withdrew objections after ComEd agreed to work with them during Bronzeville’s second phase to develop a pilot tariff for microgrid services. The tariff would allow non-utility third parties to develop and manage microgrids.


Publication Date: 2019

Related Organizations:

  • Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd)

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Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Case study
  • Project

States Affected:


  • Socioeconomic

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