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There’s an absurdity to releasing a report on community microgrids the day before Donald Trump was declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election. Nonetheless, Neighborhood Microgrids: Replicability and Revitalization, presenting the findings of a year-long study on the potential of community microgrids for urban neighborhood revitalization, hit the inboxes of all those who contributed expertise or interest to the project on that day. The days since have been, shall we say, less encouraging about clean energy and climate action. A sampling: 
catastrophic…polluter-controlled government“, ” no way to overstate the disaster“, “After this election, can we still save the planet?”

Every new technology depends on research funding, government incentives, and the like until it reaches the point of viability through economic forces alone. Has the US transition to clean energy reached that point? What stands between that point and where we are now, and how can those necessary developments and supports happen in a suddenly hostile environment? 

Consider: 

Infrastructure investment:
The most obvious idea is to link clean/innovative energy systems to the handful of statements about federal investment in infrastructure that’s come out of the Trump camp. Some see this as poised to become a give-away to a few friends, yet as perhaps the only mainstream bipartisan idea to arise from Trump, infrastructure investment deserves a little more confidence. It’s easy to dismiss this, as some are, as investment only in fossil fuel infrastructure, and thus backward progress on climate change. Is it possible to do large-scale investment in infrastructure that can only serve fossil fuels? Roads can’t refuse to carry electric cars or bicycles. Can electric lines refuse to carry power generated through renewables?  

Flexibility could be key for whatever infrastructure actually gets built: flexibility in terms of fossil vs renewable fuel. Infrastructure has a long lifespan, so regardless of political viewpoint, flexibility is smart investment, good design, and responsible stewardship of public funds. Community microgrids are a good example of this kind of flexible infrastructure, because they aren’t dependent on fuel source. They could be constructed as a neutral groundwork, then gain the addition of renewable power generation later on. 

Bi-coastal coordination:
Eban Goodstein’s “The Post Election Climate for Climate Action” webinar on Nov. 16 raised the possibility of coordination of climate change action between California and New York. These two states together form 21% of the national economy; 36% with the rest of the West Coast and the reliably blue states of the Northeast. Can multi-state standards and policies drive adoption of clean energy technologies nationwide through sheer economic dominance? This is not so different from emission standards for cars and their impact on vehicles nationwide. New York’s REV and California’s Renewable Energy programs as well as the climate change action plans for New York City and Los Angeles provide a ready foundation for such coordination.

Sub-federal action:
Everybody’s saying it: local, state, and regional government can do a lot. Legal hassles, impeachment, internecine Republican quarrels, sheer inexperience or ineptitude – all of these spell increased dysfunction in DC, not a federal government actively pulling the country back into the 20th century. The void created by dysfunction could be filled by greater local and state action, making clean energy development at a local scale more important. How do you fix The Grid at a local scale? With microgrids. 

Creative class competition:
States that went Trump have a new PR problem in the 
old competition for creative class professionals
and the industries that need them.  For confirmation of that, see everything about the disconnect between the coasts and the interior, and the shock of realizing that disconnect exists. As Silicon Valley tech leaders call for California’s secession, we’ve yet to grasp the impact of 2016’s acrimony on demographic shifts among people with the power to choose. Want to tell the creative class your city is open for business?  Clean energy systems and rock solid infrastructure ready for additional load are assets – but only if they are readily visible. What does a clean energy-friendly community look like?

It’s a new day, but the keys to tech success, innovation and resourcefulness, are as valuable as ever. The task now is to apply them to finding ways to move forward. 

Full text of Neighborhood Microgrids: Replicability and Revitalization