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The Community Microgrids Planning Academy — an online educational platform created by the Center for Resilient Design at NJIT — has received an Award of Merit for “Innovations for High-Performance Buildings and Communities” at the National Institute of Building Sciences’ 2018 Beyond Green Awards this month.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, NJIT’s Center for Resilient Design launched the academy to “educate municipal officials, and their staffs…on the value and potential feasibility of developing community microgrids.”

“The Center for Resilient Design is honored to receive this award,” said Deane Evans, program director for the NJIT Center for Resilient Design. “Community microgrids are poised to play an increasingly important role in supporting the sustainability and resilience of New Jersey communities.”

“Microgrids are an important element of sustainability and community resilience,” said Beyond Green Juror Nancy McNabb. “Other states and institutions should follow NJIT’s lead in providing education on this topic.”

A microgrid is a localized power grid that serves a small network of electricity users — typically buildings — within a small, clearly defined geographical area. Power is generated from distributed energy resources (DER). Conventional power stations — such as coal-fired, gas and nuclear powered plants — are centralized and often require electricity to be transmitted over long distances. By contrast, DER systems are located on-site and close to the users they serve. The whole network is also designed to easily connect and disconnect from the larger electrical grid so that it can operate in “grid-connected” mode during normal conditions or in “island” mode during power disruptions. 

“At the community scale…individual buildings within the community become power generators,” said Evans, upon accepting the award. “That’s a really interesting paradigm shift.”

Deane Evans accepting the Award of Merit in Washington, D.C.

Microgrids powered via DER systems benefit communities on several fronts: they keep connected networks operating during times of power disruptions from conventional power delivery systems; they reduce greenhouse gas emissions through environmentally responsible on-site power generation; and they offer cost reduction opportunities.

According to Evans, the Community Microgrids Planning Academy will help serve to effectively explain what microgrids are, describe their potential economic and resilience benefits, and delineate the series of steps needed to develop, implement and manage a microgrid. Because the Academy is a web-based educational tool, this information can be accessed by municipal officials anytime, from anywhere, encouraging rapid transfer between municipalities.

 “The online academy is specifically designed to kickstart the process [of improving sustainability and community resilience] by helping stakeholders across the state better understand and plan for community microgrids in their jurisdictions,” said Evans.