Skip to main content
Feature Story | Argonne National Laboratory

Department of Energy, Argonne seek to increase access to clean energy programs for disinvested communities

Argonne recently convened community leaders to showcase local initiatives and discuss needs with the DOE Office of State and Community Energy Programs

Community tour shows progress, needs of Bronzeville community to DOE, Argonne.

While clean energy initiatives can improve communities and quality of life for residents, access to necessary funding for long-term investments can often be the biggest challenge — particularly for communities most in need.

This was a key focal point of recent engagements between the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of State and Community Energy Programs (SCEP) and Chicago-based community leaders, small businesses and non-profit organizations. The engagements, convened by DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, highlighted grants available to communities to invest in cost-effective and productive energy solutions. It was also a chance for SCEP representatives to learn about active community initiatives and how the DOE can increase its partnership in deploying targeted solutions.

Increasing awareness and providing education about DOE programs and funding opportunities will lead to enhanced collaboration and greater investment in many Chicago communities.” — Robyn Wheeler Grange, director of Argonne’s Office of Community Engagement. 

The Bronzeville community is a powerful example of community-led clean energy solutions. These initiatives will result in greater quality of life, workforce development opportunities and long-term community investments,” said Henry McKoy, SCEP director. However, they are not without challenges, and as an active partner, we must increase our efforts to clear the necessary hurdles so progress can continue.”

Shala Akintunde, solar artist, speaks with members of the SCEP about Shala’s Bronzeville Solar Pyramid, which he designed. This 16-foot-tall pyramid is a Chicago landmark, and generates enough solar energy to power the neighboring building, Gallery Guichard. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

Two programs run by the SCEP include the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and State Energy Program (SEP). Both underscore and support the mission of SCEP, which is to provide funding and technical assistance to extend the capabilities of states, tribes, local governments, schools and community-serving organizations to implement high impact, self-sustaining clean energy projects that center the needs of low-income and disadvantaged communities and tangibly improve the lives of their citizens.

Increasing awareness and providing education about DOE programs and funding opportunities will lead to enhanced collaboration and greater investment in many Chicago communities,” said Robyn Wheeler Grange, director of Argonne’s Office of Community Engagement.

Rose Dady, SCEPs assistant director and director of Community Engagement, speaks with members of the community during a listening session held at Argonne in Chicago. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

McKoy was joined in Chicago by Chris Castro, SCEP’s Chief of Staff; Rose Dady, SCEP’s Assistant Director and Director of Community Engagement; and Ruby Goldberg, Regional Intergovernmental and External Affairs Specialist for the Midwest, Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs at DOE.

The DOE team participated in listening sessions with local stakeholders and a tour led by community leaders Paula Robinson, president of Bronzeville Partners; Andrew Wells, vice president of workforce development for The Chicago Urban League; Andre and Frances Guichard, owners of Gallery Guichard; and Shala Akintunde, solar artist. The tour included the following stops, with each assigned a community leader to talk about its history and impact:

  • The Bronzeville Community Microgrid. This is the country’s first neighborhood-scale microgrid, which combines rooftop solar, natural gas-fired generators, and batteries to produce and store energy at a local level. Once fully operational, it will render the entire neighborhood energy independent,” giving it the ability to disconnect from and reconnect to Chicago’s citywide grid at will. Earlier this year, the project, which is funded in part by a $4 million DOE grant, passed tests demonstrating that the basic design of the system works, although it still faces a number of engineering and permitting hurdles. Once those have been cleared, the microgrid will be able to power more than 1,000 homes, businesses and public institutions, such as hospitals.  
  • The Chicago Urban League Solar Installation. A year ago, the Chicago Urban League installed solar panels on the roof of its building, with the addition of a solar car port in its parking lot. It is one of the largest solar installation projects in Chicago. This installation represents an expansion of the solar job training program it started more than four years ago to expose employment opportunities in renewable energy to underrepresented groups in science and technology fields. In addition to the carport, the Urban League has installed two electric vehicle charging stations, furthering its commitment to helping the environment and community.  
  • Shala’s Bronzeville Solar Pyramid. This 16-foot-tall pyramid serves as a Chicago landmark. It generates enough solar electricity to power the neighboring building. It is the first public sculpture of its kind. 

By convening members of the community with representatives from the DOE, I am hopeful that we have a greater understanding as to what challenges remain and how we can continue to be part of the solution,” said Wheeler Grange.  

(Video by Argonne National Laboratory.)

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.