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Advocacy Update – June 2022 : California is Using Microgrids to Help Ensure Safety During Times of Crisis

Two California communities are testing the viability of microgrids in the name of resiliency and public safety. Both projects have been up and running for several months, showing the promise of decentralized electrical generation and distribution. Both projects are partially funded by the California Energy Commission’s EPIC (Electric Power Investment Charge) grants. 

A microgrid is essentially a self-contained electrical system that can support a specific local resource. Most include solar panels for generation, a small distribution system, some form of storage, and advanced controls to direct the flow of electrons. Microgrids can be stand-alone or tied to the primary electrical distribution grid.

The City of Fremont Fire Department

The city of Fremont has established a microgrid that supports three of its fire stations. Its microgrid is connected to the primary distribution grid. It provides electricity to the fire departments if there is a significant disruption to the power supply on the distribution grid.

In the event of an emergency that disrupts power, such as an earthquake, the Fremont fire dept can switch over to its microgrid and continue to provide critical emergency services. Using the microgrid to provide power during a crisis allows these first responders to remain fully operational. Having a reliable electricity source independent of the main power distribution system will save lives. 

Other benefits, such as lower energy costs, are predicted to save the city $250,000 over the next decade. The solar production from the microgrid also reduces the city’s greenhouse gas footprint by 80,000 pounds per year. 

If you want to learn more about this project, check out this article by Charlie Wu of Delta Electronics.

Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid

The Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) is a local Community Choice Aggregator (CCA). RCEA worked in partnership with PG&E to develop a microgrid to support its commercial airport, which is also a base of operations for a U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Command Center for Humbolt, Mendocino, and Del Norte Counties. 

The Coast Guard Stations is a base of operations for air rescue operations for over 250 miles of the rugged northern California coast. The Coast Guard helicopters at the airport provide lifesaving search and rescue operations and medical support. They support search and rescue operations for boaters in distress caught off guard by the rough seas and often foggy conditions. Their ability to provide emergency services during natural disasters is essential. 

The Redwood Coast Airport microgrid project includes a 2.2 Megawatt solar array coupled to D.C. energy storage provided by Tesla Megapacks. It also has a microgrid grid control system that directly interfaces with PG&Es distribution control center. The project is unique because it is owned and maintained by an investor-owned utility (IOU), PG&E. 

When it is in “Island mode,” which means it is disconnected from the primary distribution grid, it can provide uninterrupted power indefinitely for the airport and the Coast Guard.

These projects are an example of changes in California related to moving to a new electrical generation and distribution model. They provide financial savings, reduce carbon output, and help support critical lifesaving agencies. The success of these microgrid projects is gaining attention and providing a pathway for others to pursue similar projects.