Downtime on the Microgrid

From Infrastructures

Downtime on the Microgrid

Architecture, Electricity, and Smart City Islands

By Malcolm McCullough

Something good about the smart city: a human-centered account of why the future of electricity is local.





Something good about the smart city: a human-centered account of why the future of electricity is local.

Resilience now matters most, and most resilience is local—even for that most universal, foundational modern resource: the electric power grid. Today that technological marvel is changing more rapidly than it has for a lifetime, and in our new grid awareness, community microgrids have become a fascinating catalyst for cultural value change. In Downtime on the Microgrid, Malcolm McCullough offers a thoughtful counterpoint to the cascade of white papers on smart clean infrastructure. Writing from an experiential perspective, McCullough avoids the usual smart city futurism, technological solutionism, policy acronyms, green idealism, critical theory jargon, and doomsday prepping to provide new cultural context for a subject long a favorite theme in science and technology studies.

McCullough describes the three eras of North American electrification: innovation, consolidation, and decentralization. He considers the microgrid boom and its relevance to the built environment as “architecture's grid edge.” Finally, he argues that resilience arises from clusters; although a microgrid is often described as an island, future resilience will require archipelagos—clusters of microgrids, with a two-way, intermittent connectiveness that is very different from the always-on, top-down technofuture we may be expecting. With Downtime on the Microgrid, McCullough rises above techno-hype to find something good about the smart city and reassuring about local resilience.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262043519 264 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 62 b&w illus.


  • The microgrid industry now has its bible. An engaging read for anyone trying to grasp both philosophically and practically what the microgrid era is all about. Both entertaining and informative, this is little energy's big book.

    Elisa Wood

    Editor-in-Chief, Microgrid Knowledge

  • Modernity's energy paradigm involved an unseen central station delivering power at the flip of a switch. Now, with the rise of microgrids, the infrastructure of power production is more local and more visible. In an informed, inviting tone Malcolm McCullough explains that the stakes and opportunities for architecture could not be higher.

    Sandy Isenstadt

    Professor and Chair, Art History, University of Delaware; author of Electric Light: An Architectural History

  • Malcolm McCullough demonstrates that the late nineteenth-century transition to electrification was a period of flexibility and exploration. More than the recent past, that era offers a guide to the microgrid's potential to reconfigure the built environment. Resisting deterministic narratives, he explores the possibilities that emerge when networks meet at the grid edge. Microgrids can foster architectural innovation and new sensibilities, including participatory buildings, green housing, and resilient urban archipelagos. A wide-ranging, essential work.

    David E. Nye

    author of American Illuminations and Electrifying America