Project information

Climate change and energy injustice are threatening the USA

Climate change is quickly growing into a global calamity, with rising temperatures and sea levels threatening life on Earth. Sixty climate scientists working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated with very high confidence that “In urban areas, climate change is projected to increase risks for people…including risks from heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, …sea level rise and storm surges.” (Cimilluca, 2019). While “severe weather is the leading cause of power outages in the United States” (Executive Office of the President, 2013), climate change will exacerbate weather-related threats to the electrical infrastructure.

The threat to electrical infrastructure is especially dangerous in lower-income and minority communities, where discriminatory policies and practices have created an energy system that is not only unreliable, but also unjust and unhealthy (Baker, 2019). This doesn’t have to be the case though, as President Obama pointed out in a speech at the National Clean Energy Summit: “…people are beginning to realize they can take more control over their own energy, what they use, how much, when” (Obama, 2015). This realization that President Obama talked about would be impossible without revolutionary new energy systems which can allow communities to have more control over their energy and therefore alleviate many of the issues stemming from energy injustice. Because the threat of climate change is so intertwined with energy injustice, any solution to either of these crises ought to address both simultaneously. 

Microgrids can increase energy resilience and mitigate energy injustice

Microgrids offer an approach that increases resilience of energy systems and simultaneously can empower marginalized communities to resist the impacts of climate change with their own environmentally friendly energy system (Stephens, 2019) (Lewis, 2019). Microgrids use distributed energy resources (or DERs) to provide power to a small part of the macrogrid (more commonly known as “the electrical grid”), such as a neighborhood or large building. These DERs are simply small-scale energy generators; they are the source of the energy that the microgrid distributes. Microgrid components are shown below in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The connected components of a multi-energy microgrid with storage. Source: (Carlini, 2020)

Figure 1 also shows three possible additional components besides DERs:

  • Storage: A system of large batteries; excess power can be stored in the batteries and then drawn back out when needed, which can be critical when using intermittent DERs such as solar power. 
  • Load: Anything that consumes the power produced by the grid, such as a house or streetlights. 
  • Controller: Responsible for handling the complex union of the microgrid’s DERs and storage with the larger grid. 

Microgrids have several features that allow them to address the issues of climate change and energy inequality:

  • Islanding: Microgrids can be designed to operate independently of the macrogrid.  If there are disruptions in the macrogrid like a power outage due to the wildfire or hurricane, a microgrid can enter an “islanding” mode and continue to provide power to all the connected loads.
  • Renewable Power: Microgrids can also be adapted to run on renewable power sources like solar panels, wind turbines, and geothermal technology which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions that damage the climate.
  • Community-based: Community microgrids have special loads managed to directly benefit members of a community. They could power multiple buildings, critical facilities, or low-income housing in the community. These loads either benefit the community equally, or account for the past burdens that parts of the community may have endured. Furthermore, when a microgrid is managed and/or owned by the community, it can better serve the community as it is guided only by the wants and needs of everyone in the community, and not the profit margin of a corporation. 

The Project

Climable, the sponsor of this project, is a non-profit organization which works to: “empower people to combat climate change while preparing for its impacts” (Climable, n.d.). Because Climable deals with both climate change and energy justice, microgrids have become a key technology in their work. To this end, Climable has joined the Resilient Urban Neighborhoods group (RUN) and partnered with the Green Justice Coalition (GJC) to develop the RUN-GJC microgrid model that cleanly combats the energy justice crisis. However, microgrids are struggling to garner support due to a lack of information. A 2018 article published by Forbes asked a group of microgrid developers why microgrids are not widespread yet: “Development can be slow because of planning, design, and construction, they agreed, but the languor in microgrid development also has to do with a lack of understanding.” (McMahon, 2018). The goal of our project was to bridge the gap in understanding by providing Climable with tools that compile and examine microgrid projects that are close to the RUN-GJC model. 

Research Methods

Our project work was completed in three main phases: 

  • Phase I – Conducted broad research on a large number of microgrids and identified which ones best match the RUN-GJC model in terms of community, renewable and critical. Organized all of these identified microgrids in the Phase I Research Matrix
  • Phase II – Created the smaller Phase II Database out of the exceptional microgrids identified in Phase I, with more precise data fields and search functionality added.
  • Phase III – Used the Phase II Database to identify a diverse set of microgrids that were not only representative of the RUN-GJC model but could also be an inspiration for future microgrid development. Then wrote the Phase III Case Studies for each of these select few microgrid projects.

Phase I: Locating renewable, community-based microgrids

We worked to collect information about planned or existing microgrid projects. First, we searched for news stories, journal articles, and existing databases that reference microgrids. We located these resources by keyword searching in Google News and Google Scholar. To further expand our search, we explored lists of government grant and award recipients. We supplemented the information from these sources with additional news and journal articles with detailed information on the mentioned projects. 

We created a research matrix of information about the microgrids, including their community impact, what they are powering, and how much power they are supplying. The data fields we needed to collect were developed with Climable and defined to ensure that the final collection of microgrids would match with what Climable was looking for.

Once the research matrix of microgrids had been created in Phase I, it was time to sort these microgrids to determine which should move into a Phase II database. We identified the microgrids that are closest to the RUN-GJC model with three criteria: 

  • If a microgrid is community owned, run, or benefiting. 
  • If a microgrid produces most of its power from renewable energy sources during normal grid operation, i.e. when not islanding.  
  • If a microgrid powers critical facilities, such as hospitals or emergency shelters. 

We assessed each microgrid identified in Phase I to determine whether it should be included in the more refined and developed Phase II database.

Phase II: Database development and searchability

The Phase II database required an increase and revision of the criteria being tracked for each microgrid. We reforged data fields from Phase I and added new columns to the spreadsheet to ensure the information was easy to understand, and complete in its coverage. We also developed a powerful search-and-filter algorithm for the database to allow for simple data acquisition as the database expands and new microgrids are added in. This database became the first deliverable for the project.

Phase III: Constructing the case studies

After constructing the Phase II database, we dug deeper to find the microgrids that were the most representative, diverse, and inspiring for case studies. These case studies were created for Climable’s website in order to provide clear, simple, and easily accessible examples of how microgrid technology can be beneficial to communities. We used three criteria for selecting:

  • Microgrids that were community-based, critical, and renewable and therefore similar to the RUN-GJC models.
  • Microgrids that were diverse from each other.
  • Microgrids with an inspiring story or demonstrated usefulness.

With these three rules, we produced a list of candidates. We selected, with the input of Climable, four microgrid projects to highlight in three case study overviews. These became the second deliverable for the project. 


As part of phase 1 we identified 105 microgrids in the US.  The database developed through Phase II contains information about 37 community and/or renewable microgrids that met the screening criteria. In the database, there are 49 different data fields (listed by column) collected about each of the microgrid projects (listed in rows). These data fields are listed below: 

  • Microgrid Project Overview: Research Status, Project Name, Year, Load, Good Story
  • Location: City/Town, State, Country
  • Community Characteristics: Owned, Managed, Benefitting
  • Technical Characteristics: Non-contiguous, Renewable, Critical Facilities, Current Status
  • DERs and Storage: Solar (kW), Wind (kW), Generator 1, Generator 2, Fuel Cell, Other, Percent Renewable, Storage
  • Extra Info: Cost, Ratepayer Funding, EV Connection, Contact Info, Internet Articles, Notes

Case Studies

Three microgrids were selected after using this process to search through the Phase II database: Borrego Springs Microgrid, Huntington Microgrid Feasibility Study, and a combined study of Fairfield Connecticut’s Public Safety and Wastewater Treatment Microgrids. 

The Borrego Springs microgrid is an excellent case of a microgrid using almost entirely renewable energy. The Borrego Springs microgrid is a 26 MW solar microgrid, and only has a natural gas generator as a backup for cloudy days or nights if the battery storage runs out. Borrego Springs is also an example of a community microgrid which gave even more reason to select it for a case study. The Borrego Springs microgrid also had a good story about two times of demonstrated resilience where its likely saved lives.

The Huntington Microgrid stood out for the number of critical loads it plans to support. It plans to power the Huntington Town Hall, hospital, wastewater treatment plant, YMCA, and senior center which are all are places that are either critical to have power in during an outage or buildings that can become emergency shelters. There was even a past history of outages that demonstrated the need for the microgrid, just like the Borrego Springs Microgrid. While not a renewable energy microgrid, it still serves as an excellent example of a community benefitting microgrid

The Fairfield CT Microgrids were unique. While technically two microgrids, these projects focused on powering critical facilities to benefit the community. The first microgrid built in 2015 focused on adding resiliency to several critical facilities. The second microgrid built in 2018 added to the critical facilities powered, while also doing so with renewable energy. The 1557 kW of solar energy demonstrated their growth as they expanded their priorities to renewable energy the second time around.


Climate change and energy injustice are threatening the United States. Renewable, community microgrids like the RUN-GJC model can provide solutions to alleviate these issues. However, microgrids are not widely understood which is slowing their development. This project was about bridging the gap in understanding by providing the sponsor, Climable, with tools that compile and examine microgrid projects that are similar to the RUN-GJC model. We spent seven weeks to forge an expandable database of 37 microgrids with 49 columns of data fields, along with three case studies that were selected to be the most representative, diverse, and inspiring. The database will help Climable in developing their own resources to track and inform about renewable community microgrids. The case studies will be featured on Climable’s website in order to provide clear, simple, and easily accessible examples of how microgrid technology can be beneficial to communities. Together these deliverables helped bring about a greater understanding of community and renewable microgrids, furthering Climable’s work to deploy renewable microgrids in disadvantaged communities and resolve the communities’ energy injustices without negatively contributing to climate change.



Baker, S. H. (2019). Anti-resilience: A roadmap for transformational justice within the energy system Northeastern University School of Law.

Carlini, K. (2020). Pulling it all together-microgrid diagram | penn state university. Retrieved from

Cimilluca, M. T. (2019). Resiliency, critical infrastructure and microgrids. ISPIM Conference Proceedings, , 1-7. Retrieved from

Climable. (n.d.). Our story. Retrieved from

Executive Office of the President. (2013). Economic benefits of increasing electric grid resilience to weather outages. (). Retrieved from

Lewis, C. (2019). Achieving resilience through renewables-driven community microgrids. Retrieved from

McMahon, J. (2018, May 8,). Four reasons microgrids haven’t taken off yet. Forbes Magazine Retrieved from

The Obama White House (Producer), & Obama, B. (Director). (2015, August 24,). The president speaks at the national clean energy summit. [Video/DVD] 

Stephens, J. C. (2019, Mar 4,). Energy democracy: Redistributing power to the people through renewable transformation. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 61, 4-13. doi:10.1080/00139157.2019.1564212 Retrieved from