Are Microgrids the Key to Energy Democracy?

ClimableJen Stevenson and Jean Ann Ramey of Climable with participants in a Learn About Microgrids workshop. Photo courtesy of Climable.

What if your individual neighborhood could choose how it gets its energy?

Climable, a small, local nonprofit run by women, offers microgrids as the solution to two major issues surrounding energy use: energy democracy and environmental justice.

Microgrids are small, neighborhood-sized grids that can be detached from the larger grid. Climable’s clean energy microgrid plan uses solar and battery power to supplement energy from the larger grid. However, in the case of a power outage or emergency, the microgrid could run independently.

“A microgrid produces energy in local form,” Director of Research and Operations Jen Stevenson explains.

Microgrids can offer several benefits to residents, according to Stevenson. In addition to having power in a storm or emergency when it would usually be out, people would save some money on their energy bills by partially relying on solar and battery power.

Another major advantage is that using clean energy sources would improve air quality. It is in part because of this feature that Climable is focused on setting up microgrids in low- and moderate-income areas, hoping to counteract longstanding environmental injustices that have long affected many neighborhoods with high percentages of lower-income and minority residents.

Climable is working on feasibility studies for setting up microgrids in Chelsea and Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, which would be the nonprofit’s first microgrid projects. Climable has just two full-time staff members, so it works extensively with on-the-ground partners.

Climable is also working to raise money to fund nanogrids in Puerto Rico, which is still struggling with power outages 10 months after Hurricane Maria swept the island. A nanogrid is much smaller and easier to set up than a microgrid, Stevenson explains, and could power a fridge or stove in a community center. Climable hopes to have a nanogrid set up on the island in about six months, according to Stevenson.

In addition to microgrid projects, Climable works to make climate science digestible for people outside of the industry, with the ultimate goal of “empower[ing] people to combat climate change,” the nonprofit’s website explains.

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