Are Microgrids Energy Efficiency…or Some Other Animal?

Oct. 30, 2014
Are microgrids energy efficiency? The question is not just one of semantics. How microgrids are defined will influence their treatment in the policy arena and access to incentives. Read on and let us know what you think.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy does not consider microgrids when it ranks states each year on energy efficiency polices.

Microgrids would benefit from being included. State leaders exhibit quite a bit of pride in a high ranking on the scorecard; it’s a good motivational tool to encourage effective energy efficiency policy and would, no doubt, enourage more microgrid development.

The ACEEE does consider a technology closely tied to microgrids, combined heat and power*, when it scores states (along with five other policy areas). CHP is used in many US microgrids.

Is it a natural follow, then, that microgrids, too, should be used as a metric in future scorecards? Like CHP are microgrids energy efficiency?

I asked ACEEE that question during a recent news conference when it released this year’s state energy efficiency scorecard.

“Microgrids are not, right now, one of the metrics included in the scorecard,” said Maggie Molina, director of ACEEE’s Utilities, State, and Local Policy program. “We are seeing interesting synergies between distributed generation and small microgrids in strategic locations. But we are not specifically looking at that as an energy efficiency technology.”

Annie Gilleo, ACEEE state policy research analyst, added that the policy could change as state states become more creative in their use of the technology.

At this point in time, the organization views a microgrid more as a good way to enable efficiency, but not an energy efficiency technology in and of itself.

Defining microgrids as efficiency or something else is  more than an exercise in semantics. How microgrids are perceived – as energy efficiency, distribution, generation, non-transmission alternatives or perhaps a new animal – will affect their treatment in the policy arena and will likely influence access to incentives.

CHP – which provides highly efficient heat and power – has wisely capitalized on the ‘efficient’ part of its descriptor. This has netted CHP incentives that the technology might have otherwise been denied, and centered CHP within state and federal efforts to bring more efficiency to the U.S. economy.

It’s interesting to note that the states most aggressively pursuing microgrids also tended to score high in the ACEEE scorecard, among them Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Vermont and New York.

Massachusetts, ACEEE’s  top ranked state four years running, has ordered utilities to issue smart grid plans that are expected to result in more microgrids. In addition, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is looking at microgrid pilot programs. Microgrids also are expected to emerge from Governor Deval Patrick’s allotment of $40 million for energy resiliency as part of the state’s climate preparedness plan.

“In a lot of those plans and projects moving forward we are looking at muncipalities to develop microgrids for resiliency needs,” said Maeve Vallely Bartlett, Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

So let us know what you think. Are microgrids an energy efficient technology? And do you think ACEEE should use microgrids as a metric in its state energy efficiency scorecard?

To learn more about *CHP and its relationship to microgrids, see’s new report, the second in our Think Microgrid series,”The Energy Efficient Microgrid: What Combined Heat & Power and District Energy Bring to the Microgrid Revolution

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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