500kW Solar Array Installed for BLR Microgrid Project

SERC graduate student research assistants Pramod Singh (left) and Jake Rada on site at the solar array. Photo credit Kellie Brown.

SERC graduate student research assistants Pramod Singh (left) and Jake Rada on site at the solar array. Photo credit Kellie Brown.

Construction on the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) microgrid began in May, and great progress has been made this summer. While the lasting image of the project will be the 500kW solar array, there was significant preparatory work done above and below ground to make the microgrid functional. This included placing underground conduits for both power and communication lines to connect every aspect of the microgrid. A primary function of these conduits is to combine the 500kW of solar power from the array and the 500kW of stored solar power from the battery bank at a 12kV utility line that ties BLR to the PG&E electrical grid. As of this publication, the following building blocks of this project have been completed:

  • all conduit is in place
  • all 1,548 solar modules have been installed
  • all three concrete pads have been poured to hold equipment for the PV array, the battery bank (BESS), and the point of common coupling (PCC) with PG&E
  • all 10 Tesla batteries, as well as the rest of the BESS equipment, are in position and anchored on the pad
  • PCC switchgear is in place and anchored
Tesla battery bank with the solar array in the background.

Tesla battery bank with the solar array in the background.

There is still much to be done before the microgrid can begin to provide a renewable power generation source that is resilient and reliable. Now that the equipment and hardware are in place, the process of installing the software that is integral to making the off-grid islanding aspect of the microgrid possible will begin. The project is scheduled to be completed by early December.

Pramod Singh and I, both graduate student research assistants, represented SERC and the BLR Microgrid project at this summer’s InterSolar/ASES Conference and Expo in San Francisco. We gave a brief presentation outlining the design, goals, and progress made so far on the BLR microgrid, and we attended other presentations and panels dedicated to the solar energy sector. It was encouraging to learn that many conference attendees see microgrids as playing a critical role in the future of solar energy. SERC’s experience with the BLR microgrid will prove to be a fruitful venture as microgrids become more popular and affordable.

Blue Lake Rancheria Microgrid

Since September, SERC’s microgrid team has been engaged in intensive design work with partners Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR), Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Siemens, Tesla, REC Solar, GHD, Idaho National Labs (INL), Robert Colburn Electric, and Kernen Construction. Commissioning of the microgrid is scheduled for October 2016, and we are keenly aware of how much work there is still to do.

Meeting the commissioning schedule requires strategic planning, hard work, and close coordination. Our implementation methodology involves an integrated design approach, with engineers and contractors collaborating on development construction plans as well as equipment and operational specifications. Design reviews and cost checks are programmed into the schedule at the 50% and 90% levels to build and maintain consensus among stakeholders and to determine if value engineering is required as we work towards construction-ready plans. One critical path is obtaining the necessary approvals from PG&E; we have worked to expedite aspects of that process that are under our control.

We accomplished several important milestones in January. The 50% design review and cost check were conducted, and the results indicate that no major course corrections are needed. Our Early Start design package was released for construction on schedule. We also submitted our interconnection application to PG&E.

Looking ahead, we are scheduled to release the design for construction in June, which is also when Siemens is scheduled to complete Factory Acceptance Testing on the microgrid controller. INL will then conduct hardware-in-the-loop testing of the controller in their real-time digital simulator prior to installing it at BLR in September. Meanwhile, construction will be ramping up as the weather dries out this spring.

A Ground-Breaking Ceremony for Blue Lake Rancheria’s Low-Carbon Community Microgrid

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.”

Jana Ganion, Blue Lake Rancheria Energy Director, addresses the crowd.

Jana Ganion, Blue Lake Rancheria Energy Director, addresses the crowd.

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.

Tribal leaders and project partners participate in a ceremonial ground-breaking.

Tribal leaders and project partners participate in a ceremonial ground-breaking.

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.

Microgrid topology. Adapted and used with permission from Siemens.

Microgrid topology. Adapted and used with permission from Siemens.

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

Microgrid Project Groundbreaking Ceremony

Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony for our Microgrid project was a success – read more about the event and learn about the project goals and partners at the following: