“Resilience Hubs” arise in neighborhoods nationwide to provide renewable power and disaster support during power outages

“Resilience Hubs” arise in neighborhoods nationwide to provide renewable power and disaster support during power outages

In May of 2022, the City of Detroit broke ground on the Community Center at AB Ford Park, a new 8,116-square-foot building that will host recreational, community and educational events and other activities. Powered by a microgrid that can operate independently from the grid, the center will also act as a resilient resource during emergencies, providing reliable electricity during grid outages or weather-related or other emergencies and helping with post-disaster recovery. Residents can seek shelter from heat, cold or flooding, charge their electronic devices, receive emergency resources distributed by the center and obtain other critical services.

A rendering of the Community Center at AB Ford Park Photo: City of Detroit

With a $650,000 (USD) budget bolstered by grants from the General Motors Climate Equity Fund and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, the new Resilience Hub will be equipped with solar photovoltaic panels, energy storage and a backup generator. The microgrid system will not only provide power when the grid goes down but also minimize energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions year-round.

“Building resiliency into the project should allow us to lower our daily building energy costs while also providing us with power to keep the lights on and reliably serve the community during emergencies,” said Detroit’s Deputy Chief of Landscape Architecture Jeff Klein.

At a groundbreaking event for the new center, Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan stressed the importance of input from community residents on neighborhood revitalization projects. “We believe this new center will be a template for future ones like it,” Duggan said.

The Resilience Hub design process

American Microgrid Solutions (AMS) — a hybrid power systems developer specializing in community resilience — works closely with nonprofit partners and the community to define possible scenarios for Resilience Hubs and their power systems. After early-stage collaboration with independent consultancy muGrid Analytics, AMS refined the power systems using HOMER® Grid software from UL Solutions to model the new building — initially planned for a nearby location formerly referred to as the Lennox Center.

“When we show our clients the HOMER-generated numbers, it really helps clarify their priorities.”

AMS Vice President of Operations Nate Mills

As with most Resilience Hubs, the Community Center at AB Ford Park aims to provide reliable and resilient power while minimizing energy costs and carbon emissions. While HOMER Grid can model anything from a single structure to an entire community, Resilience Hubs are usually individual buildings and often locations with a track record in providing community services.

“Normally, we produce three different designs for a building to illustrate financial and performance trade-offs, including a solar-only system, solar-plus-storage sized for economics, and solar-plus-storage sized for robust resilience — all with or without conventional generation,” said AMS Vice President of Operations Nate Mills. “When we show our clients the HOMER-generated numbers, it really helps clarify their priorities. A well-configured system doesn’t just maximize economics; it balances the constraints of the project with our client’s values in an optimized solution.”

Detroit is planning for a network of Resilience Hubs

As AMS builds Resilience Hubs for communities nationwide, the team brings energy and engineering expertise to an often-complex collaboration with multiple stakeholders and partner organizations.

The City of Detroit hired AMS to design the resilience components for the Community Center at A.B. Ford Park. Elevate Energy, a Chicago-based nonprofit, began working with the city in 2021 to develop a plan for centers across Detroit’s east side. From this work came the Resilient Eastside Initiative, which has raised funds to design and build three Resilience Hubs — including the A.B. Ford Park location — and trained minority-owned contractors in the process.

“A well-configured system doesn’t just maximize economics; it balances the constraints of the project with our client’s values in an optimized solution.”

AMS Vice President of Operations Nate Mills

Originally formed as a spinoff from the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology, Elevate Energy has a 20-year history of working with low-income neighborhoods and housing authorities to provide energy and water efficiency, solar storage, and electrification. This work evolved into Resilience Hubs as a multi-faceted sustainability solution for low-income or marginalized communities.

Vito Greco, director of Elevate Energy’s solar programs, said they often begin by soliciting funding for energy efficiency improvements. “Then we’ll apply solar, water, lighting, heat pumps — whatever makes sense for that property. We’ll go out and help people fundraise for these next steps,” Greco said.

“The unique thing about the Community Center at AB Ford Park,” Greco said, “is that it’s not just a single Resilience Hub; it’s part of a network.”

“We use HOMER software all the time to show people what various systems could look like and how much they will cost,” Greco explained. Stoudamire Wellness Center, which will also be part of the network when finished, will use a solar and energy storage microgrid to power broadband internet and charging stations, health services, a “tech hub” with a podcast recording studio and radio station, and recreational and educational facilities.

Clean Energy Group and the Inflation Reduction Act

Another partner in the Detroit Resilience Hub network is the Clean Energy Group, an organization that works for the equitable distribution of clean energy resources, making them available to low-income or “disinvested” communities. Marriele Mango, Project Director at the Clean Energy Group, said they provide technical assistance in analyzing the feasibility of solar-plus-storage systems, public education and funding support. Clean Energy Group provides small-grant funding to fill a crucial gap in the solar-plus-storage process: conducting a solar-plus-storage feasibility assessment. This evaluation allows organizations to “get their foot in the door” in understanding solar-plus-storage and how it would apply to their facility.

“Critical community organizations often believe the only available resilience option is fossil-fuel powered backup generators, but battery storage is more reliable, doesn’t emit toxic pollutants and can provide economic benefits during times of regular grid operation. Battery storage is a better option and one that our community partners are excited to learn more about,” Mango said.

She points to the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act as a potential game changer for nonprofit organizations developing solar and battery storage projects. The Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for renewable energy — set at 30% for the next ten years — now has a “direct pay” option for municipalities and other nonprofit organizations such as affordable housing developers, community-based organizations, and state and tribal governments. For decades, qualifying for ITC benefits required nonprofit organizations to either partner with for-profit investors or agree to complex ownership structures — or do both. With the direct pay option, these organizations can now take full advantage of the ITC without having to go through complex third-party partnerships that ultimately dilute the value of the ITC. Furthermore, “adders” or additional credits are available to lower or moderate-income communities, which could result in an added 20% or more tax credit.

Why does Detroit need Resilience Hubs?

Every city has its reasons for needing resilient facilities; in Florida, it might be to provide shelter from hurricanes and the subsequent damage, while California is building microgrids to power communities during wildfire and earthquake emergencies. In Detroit, another climate-related risk threatens city residents: flooding. In a recent webinar, Elevate Energy’s Tim Skrotzki pointed out that the city’s sewer systems “can’t handle” the increased rainfall, with severe storms and catastrophic flooding occurring more frequently. He also said that Michigan ranks fourth in the United States (U.S.) for the average annual power interruptions, subjecting people to stress during heat waves and unusual cold spells.

For example, torrential rains hit southeastern Michigan in the summer of 2021, prompting President Biden to declare a major disaster. The flooding in multiple east-side Detroit neighborhoods was particularly bad, causing tens of thousands of households to file damage claims for the June event. The hope is that Resilience Hubs will provide some relief during future flooding events.

A movement to create Resilience Hubs is growing

According to the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) — a national leader in the thinking behind Resilience Hubs — many cities now recognize the urgency of investing in climate-resilient community centers. USDN points to more examples popping up in U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Md; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta, Ga.; Cambridge, Mass.; Tempe, Ariz.; Orlando and Miami, Fla.; and Minneapolis, Minn.

The organization also states that Resilience Hubs “can reduce the burden on local emergency response teams while increasing the effectiveness of community-centered institutions and programs.”

Significantly, USDN believes it is critical to address resilience in low-to moderate-income neighborhoods and that U.S. climate mitigation efforts need to be diverse, inclusive and equity-centered to succeed.

UL Solutions HOMER Grid is a market-leading solar-plus-storage software tool for designing grid-tied distributed energy systems. With an integrated utility tariff database and a new module for electric vehicle charging stations, it optimizes peak shaving to help commercial and industrial utility customers lower their demand charges. HOMER Grid can model projects with wind and combined heat and power as well as islanded systems, helping users improve their resiliency. Explore your opportunities with HOMER Grid during a complimentary trial. Learn more and download your complimentary trial.