Microgrids are energy generation and transmission networks that connect to the grid, but can offer local communities the ability to seamlessly switch to operating off the grid— the best of both worlds. Microgrids allow the possibility of flexible, local control over power generation decisions and increased community resilience against grid disruption. Microgrids are not only for communities that want to achieve energy independence, but also for those with limited or no access at all. It is estimated that only 14% of Native American households on reservations have access to electricity. Reservations are often located in isolated areas with households spread out over large distances. This makes it extremely expensive to connect to sources of power, but it also makes microgrids, in combination with renewable energy, the most cost-effective and sustainable power choice. Native American tribes across the country are turning to renewable energy sources and microgrids to provide reliable energy and create jobs.
The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) offers solar photovoltaic systems to households
without grid access. It also offers payment plans toward the purchase of solar-wind hybrid
systems. These solutions are cheaper than the estimated $60,000 per mile it would cost to
connect remote locations to the grid.
The Hopi Nation of Arizona formed NativeSUN to sell and install small solar systems on its lands through monthly payments plans.
The Moapa Band of Paiutes tribe created a 250-MW hybrid microgrid project made up of PV trackers, generators and a battery bank. It has been so successful, they are adding another 100 MW of solar power in 2017.
The town of Tuntutuliak in western Alaska may not have much sun for portions of the year, so it is turning to wind power to save money. Wind turbines connected to a microgrid are saving them almost half a million dollars a year and reduce the need to burn 70,000 gallons of dirty diesel fuel annually.
Blue Lake Rancheria, a Native American reservation in California, has built a microgrid consisting of a 0.5 MW solar installation, 950 kWh battery storage systems, diesel generators and a biomass fuel cell system to power government buildings, local businesses, and health care facilities. The microgrid will allow the 100-acre reservation to operate independently of the grid, generate, store and manage energy for the community while reducing 150 tons of carbon per year.
Native American reservations are serving as proving grounds for the development of microgrids while drastically improving quality of life in communities with little to no access to power. They also demonstrate the power of local resilience and can showcase the sustainable economy of the future.