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.
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.
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:
Last spring, the North Coast Resource Partnership (NCRP) issued a call for applications from small water and wastewater service providers in disadvantaged communities to host demonstration projects. The goal was to identify projects that would serve to “beta-test” a small community resources toolkit, provide real engineering support to providers, and develop case studies to serve as examples for the North Coast region as a whole.
Technical assistance for the projects selected by the NCRP was led by GHD Inc. in Eureka, CA. SERC was subcontracted by GHD to complete a photovoltaic (PV) analysis for the Smith River Community Services District’s (SRCSD) water pumping facilities using methods that could be replicated as part of the small community resources toolkit.
The System Advisor Model (SAM), developed by the National Renewable Energy Research Laboratory, was selected because SAM is a free, robust, and well-supported analysis platform. Also, data collected with a Solar PathfinderTM during the site visits was easily imported into the SAM model to account for shading at the proposed array locations.
Internal view of one of the seven water pumping facilities owned and operated by the SRCSD that were analyzed for opportunities to install photovoltaic systems.
SERC engineers analyzed seven of the SRCSD facilities and found that if PV systems were implemented on an individual basis, the simple payback periods ranged from 8 to 12 years, given the current incentive and pricing landscape. If the systems were aggregated together, the simple payback period would be about nine years to install 64 kW DC of PV generating capacity that could meet approximately 70% of projected SRCSD electrical loads. As a result of this work, SERC recommended that the SAM model and the Solar PathfinderTM be incorporated into the NCRP Small Community Resource Toolkit.
In rural India, despite decades of electrification programs, about 400 million people making up half of all households still do not have access to electricity. SERC has recently joined a consortium of U.S.- and India-based energy experts to assess the feasibility of building solar photovoltaic mini-grids as a solution to the high cost of electrification in remote areas. These systems would each consist of a single solar generation station per village with a distribution network to provide power to all nearby homes and businesses. If successful, this model could be widely replicated at lower cost than providing each home with a stand-alone solar system.
SERC’s role in the project will include performing a literature survey of similar projects that have been installed in other developing countries, an assessment of how Indian energy policy and regulations affect the project, and field studies to estimate energy demand and willingness to pay for electricity in the participating villages. We will provide technical assistance to the rest of the team on several other project tasks.
The project is jointly funded by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and Azure Power of India. San Francisco firm Energy and Environmental Economics (E3) is the lead consultant.