Jul 24, 2020 | Scale Microgrid Solutions

A Response to U.S. House Democrats’ Climate Plan

Samantha Reifer, Director of Special Projects, Scale Microgrid Solutions

Select committee Democrats recently released a roadmap for ambitious climate action titled “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America.”

The plan would put the country on a path to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, if not earlier. It would power economic recovery through clean energy investment and jobs, and address the legacy of environmental injustice harming America’s low-income communities and communities of color.

Committee staffers held thousands of meetings with various stakeholders including elected officials, tribal leaders, scientists, business representatives, policy experts, public health advocates, youth activists, and individuals representing communities on the front lines of climate change. After a year of work, they came up with 12 pillars of the plan.

Here I’ll summarize how microgrids can play a part in fulfilling a few of these pillars:

Invest in infrastructure to build a just, equitable, and resilient clean energy economy and invest in disproportionately exposed communities to cut pollution and advance environmental justice. 

  • Without government intervention, those that will be first served by resilient energy infrastructure, as has played out with solar, will be the wealthy. Microgrids invested in and guided by local and state governments can give priority to low income and disadvantaged communities (who are also more likely to suffer the impacts of climate change and extreme weather). Whether it’s a microgrid for a grocery store, assisted living facility, or emergency center it is essential that funds are directed to ensure that the worst impacts of climate change are not only felt by those least able to withstand them.

Drive innovation and deployment of clean energy and deep decarbonization technologies and break down barriers for clean energy technologies.

  • As an easy way to avoid updating outdated infrastructure, PG&E recently invested in 450MW of diesel generators. Even while clean energy technology deployed through microgrids is available and in most cases is cost effective. Microgrid policy that enables microgrid developers and optimizes the private sector will provide more resilient, sustainable, and cost-effective power to communities than what is currently being offered..
  • Microgrids that are designed to withstand multi-day outages typically optimize a mix of renewable and fossil fuel resources. This mix of resources ensures that microgrids are useful during blue-sky operation and resilient during black sky conditions. Additionally, low carbon resources are essential to ensure lower costs on our route to deep decarbonization.

Make US communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

  • Catastrophic weather events are increasing and our energy infrastructure is outdated. As stated above, multi-resource microgrids allow critical facilities to remain powered during worst-case-scenarios.  Microgrids and distributed energy gives customers control over their power supply, creates redundancy to ensure resiliency, and provides services to the grid to enable more resilient, cost-effective, and sustainable operation.

Improve public health and manage climate risks to health infrastructure.

  • Hospitals and healthcare facilities are arguably the most critical facilities and essential to our public health and emergency response. Microgrids, by using multiple generation and storage resources, can power more of a hospital’s critical infrastructure and in a more cost-effective manner than a backup diesel generator. Additionally, in states that require diesel generated backup power for healthcare facilities, microgrids can incorporate these existing resources into their design and operations.

Confront climate risks to America’s national security and restore America’s leadership on the international stage.

  • The US is by far the leading country for military microgrids. A cyber attack against the power grid could cut off delivery of food and water, healthcare, commerce, and communications. Our economy runs on electricity and it needs to be secure. By decentralizing our energy resources with distributed energy, we break apart the threat of an attack on one central location.
  • For the second year in a row, the US has fallen in rankings from the World Economic Forum that measure items like energy security, environmental sustainability, and preparedness for the energy transition. In order to economically benefit from the inevitable transition to an automated and distributed grid, the US needs to empower cleantech, including microgrids, to innovate and deploy.

It’s encouraging to see such a detailed climate plan in the U.S. To see these plans through, policy efforts around climate change adaptation and mitigation should focus on funding energy resilience infrastructure projects. Directing dollars to infrastructure investments puts much needed dollars to work in local economies and encourages private investment by reducing and appropriately assigning risk.

Microgrids provide an opportunity to address the interlinked problems of sustainability, equity, innovation, and resilience, and drive additional opportunity for economic revitalization and political leadership. There are microgrid solutions ready to provide the cost-effective and sustainable resilience that customers require, and this Committee Report and other plans are awesome first steps towards a clean, resilient, and equitable energy future.