Scoring for the Future with a Common Definition: A Taxonomy for Microgrids

April 20, 2024
Think Microgrid’s Taxonomy Brief 2024 strives to define microgrids and the role they can play in transforming our energy system.

When asked what led to his success on the ice, Wayne Gretzky, the great Canadian hockey player, famously said that he always skated to where the puck was going to be, not where it had been. As a result, “the great one” was one of the most prolific goal scorers of all time.

We need to have a similar attitude about microgrids according to Cameron Brooks, executive director of Think Microgrid.

After three years of conversations with a variety of industry stakeholders, community groups and the media, Brooks said Think Microgrid, which is a policy advocacy group for the microgrid industry, quickly realized that there is no clear common language or understanding around microgrids.

“Having a common framework is a vital part of having productive conversations about microgrid policy and deployment strategies. Having a simplified way to reference different microgrids makes it that much easier to understand each other when we’re talking about the future of microgrids,” Brooks said.

Without a clear taxonomy we risk our energy future being dictated by what’s available today, missing out on opportunities to develop new types of microgrid solutions tomorrow, Brooks added.

In other words, we won’t score as many goals if we only focus on where the puck has been. 

The microgrid family is diverse

To help define what microgrids are and the role they can play in transforming our energy system, Think Microgrid recently released Taxonomy Brief 2024.

The brief organizes microgrids into three “families” based on the size of the system and how it connects to the grid, who the microgrid serves and ownership of the microgrid. Brooks pointed out that while related, each of those families is extremely diverse.

A microgrid can serve an individual home, a community or an entire military base depending on its size and configuration.

“They all share the common characteristic of being able to be island and being able to interact with the grid in a flexible way as a single resource, but they're interacting with the grid at very different scales.”

It is this diversity that can both drive and hinder microgrid development.

Removing artificial barriers

While microgrids are not a new concept, technological advancements in recent years have progressed to the point that a system that once was practical for only certain highly motivated customers may now be accessible to a wider audience.

However, outdated regulations and policies are too often putting up artificial barriers that ultimately limit those possibilities, Brooks said.

“The Taxonomy is intended to help highlight the kinds of microgrids that we want to exist, but that might not exist today just because of policy, not technological barriers,” Brooks added.

A new way of thinking about capitalization

Brooks also hopes the taxonomy will encourage stakeholders to think about energy infrastructure capitalization differently.

Regulators should be leveraging all types of funding opportunities, including private capital and public funding to modernize the energy system, according to Brooks. “There's no need for the rate payers, who are already feeling pretty tapped out in most parts of the country, to have to shoulder the entire burden of investing in the new electrical system that we want,” he said.

Microgrids and the future

Brooks hopes the taxonomy will get more people engaged in conversations about how microgrids can serve as resilience, climate and equity solutions.

“Microgrid technology is opening up the field of opportunity quite a bit and we believe that there are a lot of beneficial microgrids that can and should be built,” Brooks said. “ We really just hope that the taxonomy is a reference that can provide a little bit more of a coherent understanding of the microgrid landscape.”

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About the Author

Kathy Hitchens | Special Projects Editor

I work as a writer and special projects editor for Microgrid Knowledge. I have over 30 years of writing experience, working with a variety of companies in the renewable energy, electric vehicle and utility sector, as well as those in the entertainment, education, and financial industries. I have a BFA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona and a MBA from the University of Denver.

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