Microgrids 101


What is a microgrid? 

The DOE defines the microgrid as ‘‘a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or islandmode.’’

For more information from DOE, please review their Microgrids Overview, which includes cost estimates, design considerations, and best practice tips.

Visual depiction of a how a microgrid, using power supply and load centers, integrates into the utility grid.

Why are microgrids beneficial?

Microgrids provide efficient, low-cost, clean energy, enhance local resiliency, and improve reliability of the regional electric grid.


  • Resilience
    • A microgrid provides customers with energy resilience by avoiding power outages in the first place, or quickly recovering if they do occur. In the case of an outage, the microgrid can be programmed to restore power to an entire facility, or just the most critical components. Once grid power is restored, the facility can resume normal operations more quickly because it did not have to shut down completely.
    • The Microgrid for Community Resilience grant program focuses on enhancing resilience for community anchor institutions (such as schools, fire stations, and hospitals).  In rural communities, those centralized community spaces are critical - especially in times of extreme weather or emergencies. 
  • Reliability
    • Microgrids keep the power flowing during an outage by disconnecting from the grid in “island” mode. The system’s controller switches from grid power to the microgrid’s local power sources when it senses an outage. Solar, back-up generators, battery energy storage or the microgrid’s other distributed energy sources then serve its customers until the grid’s power is restored. 
    • A microgrid can be used to strengthen the broader electric grid by augmenting normal grid operations or easing the strain on the central grid during periods of peak demand.
  • Cost savings
    • Microgrids can reduce the energy costs of their customers by efficiently managing energy supply, which helps customers budget for energy costs in both the short and long term.
  • Promoting clean energy
    • Microgrids can use a wide range of clean energy generation technology (solar, wind, fuel cells, combined heat and power plants, energy storage).  Using these diverse energy sources together ensures that the microgrid can overcome any downsides of a specific technology.

Examples of Microgrids as Community Resilience:


New York University: During Superstorm Sandy, NYU’s microgrid successfully islanded from the local distribution grid and continued to provide reliable power to much of the NYU campus, also serving as a resilience hub for the community.  Resilience hubs are community-serving facilities that support residents, coordinate communication, distribute resources, and reduce carbon pollution while enhancing quality of life.


  • Red Feather Lakes Microgrid (Larimer County)​: Community-based microgrid and resilience hub serving ​library, post office, local businesses, and critical services ​ such as fire response, EMS, and telecommunications in a rural, mountainous region
  • Northside Aztlan Community Center (Fort Collins): Community center designed to provide backup power during the fire season to enable the center to host emergency operations  and as a resilience hub.  Partially funded by DOLA. 
  • San Miguel Power Association Microgrid: Microgrid system containing two solar PV and energy storage microgrid systems.  The system connected two crucial parts of the San Miguel County sheriff’s department: the annex building in Norwood and the Ilium sheriff office near Telluride. This project centered around mission-critical loads.  Partially funded by DOLA.
  • Pueblo Community Health Center - East Side Center [in development]: This location will be the first net-zero energy health center site in the United States (as of 2020).  Health centers considering solar microgrids and back-up battery systems may want to check out the Community Health Access to Resilient Green Energy (CHARGE) partnership. Charge is a collaboration between NACHC, Collective Energy, and Capital Link and provides energy options for health centers supporting communities that are  vulnerable to grid outages and have patient populations disproportionately affected chronic disease, poverty and racial and ethnic health inequities.

To learn more about microgrids, visit Microgrid Knowledge or Think Microgrid websites. 


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