Installations of microgrids are happening with such accelerating frequency and capacity that many think it’s going to be a gold-paved, toll-free highway to success for independent, on-site power.
Reality check: The path to deployment is confronted by numerous policy barriers in most states of the U.S., according to a new research report by industry advocacy group Think Microgrid. Its “State Scorecard 2023” delivers barely passing grades to most states, with only a few gaining higher marks, if not full honors.
Across the nation, as studied by Think Microgrid’s policy team, only Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii and Texas merited Bs in the State Policy Scorecard. Most were handed Cs or Ds. In many of those states with average or worse grades, outdated utility policies and regulations impeded the otherwise exponential growth of microgrids nationwide, according to the report.
“There is no doubt that microgrids can be the foundation of a grid that is truly resilient, clean and equitable,” Cameron Brooks, Think Microgrid's executive director, said. “But that outcome is hardly inevitable—it requires deliberate and thoughtful action.”
Indeed, the expected electrification of the American economy, coupled with a utility grid that is clearly not yet ready for vast growth in both facility load and electric vehicles, is pushing the call for a dramatic expansion in microgrids and DERs. The added value chain in utilizing aggregated DERs for virtual power plants and other grid services also would seem to make microgrid deployment almost a no-brainer.
And then there’s the C&I energy transition—the desire of many companies to both shore up their own energy supply while also meeting sustainability goals. Microgrids provide an on-site solution to meet those twin objectives.
“We have many customers who want state-of-the-art digitized microgrids to meet their desired outcomes of resiliency or decarbonization,” said Jana Gerber, president of the North America Microgrid unit at global technology firm Schneider Electric. “The scorecard is an important tool to keep customers and microgrid developers informed of how and where progress is being made.”
Public funding, above all else, is driving investment in microgrid projects, as the report notes. For instance, federal funding for microgrids rose from $27 million for 12 projects five years ago to $126 million for 38 projects this year, according to research firm Wood Mackenzie.
Nonetheless, policy in many states continues to push headwinds against microgrid expansion, as Think Microgrid calculated. The State Scorecard’s methodology included factors such as deployment statistics, policy and regulatory frameworks, resilience—the existence or lack of a dedicated focus, grid services and equity.
California is noted as a national leader in microgrid deployments with numerous projects both of utility and non-utility origins. However, the Think Microgrid Scorecard gave it an academic average of only 2.8, or a high C. New York and Puerto Rico also received the same mark—with the letter mark averaging out scores in the deployment, policy, resilience, grid services and equity categories—(4 for an A, 3, for a B, 2 for a C, 1 for a D and 0 for F).
More than 30 states received a D grade, while none were marked with the proverbial F. Among the higher Ds were Florida, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Oregon. The lowest, sharing a 1 average, were seven states—Kansas, Nevada, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Wyoming, North Dakota and Idaho.
Think Microgrid the industry advocacy group made up of numerous companies and non-profits working in the microgrid space. The non-profit is owned by Endeavor Business Media.