It was a beautiful day for a celebration. Keynote speakers included Congressman Jared Huffman and Energy Commissioner Karen Douglas. Entering the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) property the morning of August 24, I saw a huge banner announcing the Rancheria as one of 16 designated White House Climate Action Champions. Further onto the property were additional banners with words like “sustainable” and “clean energy.” And then I came to the banner that explained what the hoopla was all about: “Celebrating clean energy and climate action. Announcing a new project: low-carbon community microgrid.”
The event was a ground-breaking ceremony for the Blue Lake Rancheria Low-Carbon Community Microgrid Project. A partnership between the Schatz Energy Research Center, BLR, Siemens, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and others, the project is funded in part by a $5 million grant from the California Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge program. The multi-year project includes planning and design in year one, system installation in year two, and operation and performance analysis in year three.
According to the US Department of Energy Microgrid Exchange Group, “A microgrid is a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island-mode.” The Rancheria’s microgrid will feature a 400 kW-AC solar electric array (the largest in Humboldt County), 1 MWh of battery storage, a 175 kW fuel cell system powered by a woody biomass gasifier, and interruptible loads, all of which will be controlled by a Siemens microgrid controller.
The microgrid will provide numerous benefits to the Rancheria and the local community. First, the Rancheria is a nationally recognized American Red Cross critical support facility, and in the event of a natural disaster on the North Coast, such as a large earthquake or tsunami, serves as an emergency evacuation site. The microgrid system will be capable of providing stand-alone power for emergency critical loads almost indefinitely. The microgrid system will also provide numerous non-emergency benefits. The solar electric array and biomass powered fuel cell generator will provide on-site renewable power that will lower the Tribe’s greenhouse gas emissions and reduce their electric bills. In addition, the battery storage will be optimally managed by the microgrid controller to reduce power consumption during peak periods. This will serve to lower the Rancheria’s electric bills, while also providing benefits to the local PG&E electric grid.
Microgrids are envisioned to be an integral part of the electric grid of the future. In this grid of the future, which PG&E refers to as the Grid of Things™, instead of relying solely on large central-station power plants, much of our electrical power will come from smaller renewable generators located near the facilities that need the power. In addition, there will be controllable loads, energy storage and plug-in electric vehicles; all of these devices will be capable of interacting via smart controllers in order to optimize the performance of the overall system. The goal is to lower greenhouse gas emissions, lower prices, provide more secure and reliable power, and allow more local choice and control. The BLR’s low-carbon microgrid project will move us one step closer to the Grid of Things™. Perhaps Jana Ganion, BLR Energy Director, explained it best when she said, “What it means to me personally is that I can look my son in the eye and when he asks me about climate change I can tell him, sweetheart, I’m working on it.”
“This project shows the type of leadership and partnership that can advance California’s climate and renewable energy goals, help transform our energy system and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” — Karen Douglas, California Energy Commissioner