Solar+ project continues in Blue Lake

The Solar+ project at the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) hit high gear this summer, with activity across our research and design areas — from engineering to market assessment. Our project is at the halfway point, with construction underway and plans afoot for experiments to run once we are operational next year. It has been rewarding to see progress towards a standardized package for microgrids at the building scale.

Over the summer, our engineering designs came into form as the PV array was installed at the Rancheria’s “Playstation 777” fueling station and convenience store. Our partners at BLR have been working closely with us to coordinate the construction and installation of a 60 kW array of high efficiency SunPower modules on the fueling area canopy. Later this year we will install control devices, switchgear, and other microgrid components.

Overhead shot shows solar modules on the canopy of the fueling station

Drone photo of the PV array under construction, September 2018 (courtesy of the BLR)

In parallel to our work designing and installing the microgrid hardware, project partners at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have been developing the control software that will eventually manage the microgrid. Building off the open source XBOS (“Extensible Building Operating System”) framework, the LBNL team has been adding model-predictive control and communications features needed to optimize the operation of our energy systems. We are in the testing phase for this software now, and look forward to its installation and operation in 2019.

Along with our progress on the prototype installation for our Solar+ microgrid design, we have been synthesizing our overall experience in microgrid design and development. Our cross-site analysis is helping us to model the current costs and benefits of microgrids based on the characteristics of a site — and we are looking ahead to future prices for PV, storage, and integration technology to understand possible deployment pathways for microgrids at scale.

We made a lot of progress this summer, thanks in great part to a crew of excellent summer research assistants. René DeWees and Ellen Thompson joined our market and data analysis team, and helped model the costs of microgrids (along with big contributions from Jo Caminiti and Thalia Quinn). Craig Mitchell joined the hardware design and construction team, and provided important on-site research observation and engineering support as we worked on building the PV array.

Solar Plus: Improving Performance in Distributed Clean Energy Systems

This fall, we are kicking off a new “Solar Plus” (Solar+) project to investigate how real-time coordination between clean energy systems can yield performance improvements that benefit both building owners and utility operations. Research and development over the past decade has successfully reduced the cost of solar arrays, batteries, building controls, and electric vehicles. Many of the emerging challenges we now face are related to the large-scale deployment and integration of distributed clean energy components. For example, electrical distribution circuit capacity is limited (in order to prevent power lines from overheating), which in turn limits the downline capacity of distributed generation systems. This Solar+ project will develop control strategies to coordinate onsite resources to reduce their combined footprint on the power system, effectively increasing the capacity of the grid to host clean energy technology.

Our pilot site is a gas station and convenience store at the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) in Blue Lake, California. Convenience stores typically have sizable loads, including HVAC and refrigeration, which require backup power. Many of the sites also have significant potential to host rooftop solar. By working with a very common building type (there are 12,000 convenience stores in California alone), we can design with replication in mind.

Over the next two and a half years we will design and install a Solar+ system at the BLR and measure the value of distributed energy coordination. Our project will develop: (1) a hardware design guide for integrated Solar+ packages, (2) open-source software for controlling the technology, and (3) guidelines to determine the best locations for investment, given local insolation and onsite potential for system coordination. Our outcomes will be focused on integrating solar, batteries, and advanced building controls into packages that are market ready and can make positive impacts on the future trajectory of California’s built environment.

Photo of the Blue Lake Rancheria gas station and store


The Rancheria gas station & convenience store

This project is funded by the California Energy Commission through the Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program. Our key partners are the Blue Lake Rancheria, which owns the gas station, and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, where a team of researchers is developing open-source “Solar+ Optimizer” software.

Project partners also include Southern California Edison, whose refrigeration system test center data is helping us to develop algorithms, and Pacific Gas & Electric, the local energy utility.