The US Congress approved billions of dollars in clean energy funding and tax credits over the last year, including for microgrids. Now the big question is when and how the money will flow to energy projects.
The Department of Energy (DOE) offered a glimpse into its plans for the $10.5 billion that is designated for energy resilience in a request for information (RFI) issued last week.
The money is from a $62 billion pot assigned to the Department of Energy from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, which President Joe Biden signed last November.
The DOE plans to allot the $10.5 billion over five years to innovative energy infrastructure projects that prevent outages and enhance grid resilience and flexibility.
Importance of money
“This is one of the most important funding programs for resiliency that’s come from this Congress,” said Cameron Brooks, executive director of Think Microgrid, an affiliate of Microgrid Knowledge that provides microgrid advocacy and education for policymakers. “Think Microgrid has previously encouraged the DOE to prioritize microgrids as they develop guidance for this funding. We continue to believe this funding is an important opportunity to deploy microgrids in innovative settings.”
In the RFI, the energy department lays out its spending priorities and explains what applicants must do to secure the funds. The agency issued the RFI to get feedback on the plan before it moves forward.
Energy resilience funding in 3 categories
Power outages from extreme weather have doubled over the past two decades across the US, and vulnerable communities have suffered disproportionately, according to the DOE. So the agency is focusing not only on resilience but also on jobs and energy equity, achieved through partnerships among a range of stakeholders — states, local governments, tribes and power system owners and operators.
Called Grid Resilience and Innovative Partnerships or GRIP, the program will offer the $10.5 billion in three categories, some with a particular emphasis on microgrids. The categories are:
- Grid resilience grants: $2.5 billion.
- Smart grid grants: $3 billion.
- Grid innovation program: $5 billion.
Applicants can offer projects that avert or correct power outages or address other threats to energy resilience, such as wildfires or flooding. The DOE also is interested in projects that offer economic benefits, support community, workforce, and diversity and leverage private dollars that can help a technology reach scale.
The DOE will begin the application process by seeking concept papers from those who want to apply for funding. The agency expects to solicit the concept papers this fall. Based on the papers, the agency would choose who will be invited to apply for the money with the intent of selecting winners in the spring of 2023.
- Grid resilience grants
The DOE is open to a range of technologies for grid resilience grants, including transformational approaches that align with state, federal or tribal regional resilience or security plans.
“DOE is particularly interested in applications for adaptive storage deployment, microgrid deployment, and the undergrounding of distribution and transmission lines – in addition to other eligible projects and solutions that provide significant benefit,” the draft RFI says.
Awards will be based on what applicants spent in the previous three years “on efforts to reduce the likelihood and consequences of disruptive events.” In addition, the DOE is proposing an additional discretionary limit of $100 million in federal funds per award.
Eligible applicants include electric grid operators, electricity generators, electricity storage operators, transmission owners or operators, distribution providers, fuel suppliers and other relevant entities, as determined by the US energy secretary.
- Smart grid grants
The DOE will provide awards of up to $30 million and seeks four types of smart grid projects. These projects will:
- Increase the capacity of transmission facilities or the capability of the transmission system to reliably transfer increased amounts of electricity.
- Prevent faults that may lead to wildfires or other system disturbances.
- Integrate variable renewable energy resources at the transmission and distribution levels.
- Facilitate the aggregation and integration (edge-computing) of electric vehicles and other grid edge devices or electrified loads.
Institutions of higher education, for-profit entities, nonprofit entities, state and local governments and tribal nations may apply.
- Grid innovation program
The grid innovation program offers $50 million to $250 million per award for grid innovation. The DOE has proposed increasing the award limit to $1 billion for interregional transmission projects.
Money will go to projects that demonstrate:
- Innovative approaches to transmission, storage and distribution infrastructure to harden and enhance resilience and reliability.
- New approaches to enhance regional grid resilience, implemented through states by public and rural electric cooperative entities on a cost-shared basis.
Technologies eligible include “adaptive microgrid formation, reliable islanded operations, and service provision during grid-tied operations,” according to the RFI.
States, Native American tribes, units of local government and public utility commissions may participate in the grid innovation program.
Deadline to comment is Oct. 14
The RFI is available via Fedconnect, Reference No. DE-FOA-0002740. The DOE seeks input on the plan, which could result in revisions, by Oct. 14, 2022.
The Bipartisian Infrastructure Law, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, is one of two major energy bills that became law within the last year. The second and more recent bill is the Inflation Reduction Act, also known as the climate bill. It provides tax credits for microgrid controllers and several other components often found within microgrids, such as solar and energy storage.
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