Berkeley, Calif. got an okay this week to take preliminary steps toward installing a community microgrid to power public and private essential services in a crisis.
The city council authorized the city to pursue yet-to-be specified grants with a team that includes AECOM and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The team is poised to apply when more microgrid funding becomes available through the Department of Energy, California Energy Commission, or other entities, said Neal De Snoo, the city’s energy program officer.
Berkeley hopes to initially secure funds for a microgrid feasibility study.
“We are trying to look at ways to utilize clean power production that can also provide more secure and reliable energy service in the event of prolonged outages, shocks, earthquakes, and things like that,” De Snoo said in an interview Thursday.
The city is eying a multi-level parking garage near its civic center as a possible anchor for the community microgrid. The city would rebuild the garage and add solar panels, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging. The microgrid would provide power to the civic center, which could serve as an emergency shelter. It already houses a 911 telecommunications center.
“During regular operations when the grid is up and running, we are going to use this system to provide demand management in the parking garage and manage the load,” he said. The goal is lower energy costs and enhance the power quality in the downtown area.
The community microgrid is still in early concept stage. Berkeley has several steps ahead including design of the system, regulatory approval and development of a business strategy for funding, subscription, revenue and distributing value to participants.
“The scope of this project is not fully flushed out. That’s one of the objectives of the grant,” De Snoo said.
The community microgrid would likely accommodate municipal and private companies that offer health care, telecommunications and food. It may eventually serve some of the city’s 116,768 residents, as well.
The idea is to take a somewhat modular approach, building and improving the microgrid over time.
“We may start with a very bare bones system, but have the capability of expanding and incorporating more functionality as we get smarter and the technology gets more advanced,” he said.
The city is served by PG&E, so tariff and regulatory issues will need to be worked out for the grid-connected microgrid.
“This is new, and rules don’t exist for a lot of these concepts,” he said.
Berkeley began considering a community microgrid after it won a Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities Challenge grant about 18 months ago. The grant allowed the city to hire a resilience officer.
“One of the elements for a resilient strategy is energy assurance. So this came to the front burner as we started identifying risks and vulnerabilities and potential solutions,” De Snoo said.
Looking for more information about community microgrids? See “Community Microgrids: A Guide for Mayors and City Leaders Seeking Clean, Reliable and Locally Controlled Energy.