Solar-Plus-Storage System Provides Energy Resilience for Humboldt County, Serves As Blueprint for Advancing Deployment of Clean, Multi-Customer Microgrids

California’s first 100% renewable energy, front-of-the-meter, multi-customer microgrid is now fully operational, providing enhanced energy resilience for the California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport and US Coast Guard Air Station.

The new microgrid was developed through a first-of-its-kind partnership between the County of Humboldt, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the Schatz Energy Research Center at Cal Poly Humboldt, Schweitzer Engineering Labs, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, Tesla, Inc., The Energy Authority, and TRC.

The Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid (RCAM) features a 2.2-megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic array that is DC-coupled to a 2-MW (9 megawatt-hour) battery energy storage system, comprised of three Tesla Megapacks. It also includes a microgrid control system, with protection and isolation devices that interfaces directly with PG&E’s distribution control center.

A model for resilient, clean energy

The microgrid serves multiple functions and is managed in collaboration between project partners. The Schatz Energy Research Center is the prime contractor and technology integrator, leading the design, testing and deployment of the clean energy microgrid.

“The Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid has ushered in a new and exciting era for the electric grid in California. With its successful deployment and the development of new microgrid agreements and tariffs, RCAM has become a role model and beacon to communities across the state who are striving to green their energy supply and bolster their resilience in the face of climate change,” said Peter Lehman, Founding Director of the Schatz Center and project lead.

Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), the Community Choice Aggregator for the Humboldt Bay area, owns the two solar arrays and the battery energy storage system.

During standard blue-sky operations, RCAM generates clean energy for the North Coast and participates in the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) wholesale energy markets, including the day-ahead, real-time, and ancillary services markets.

By storing solar energy during the day and releasing it onto the grid as needed in the evening and during peak demand, RCAM enables greater utilization of solar, supports grid reliability, and creates an economic model for future microgrids.

“RCEA’s goal is to provide our customers with 100% carbon-free electricity by 2025, and 100% local carbon-free electricity by 2030. This project is a major milestone for our clean energy and resilience efforts,” says Matthew Marshall, Executive Director of RCEA. RCEA works closely with schools, fire departments, tribes, and other local agencies to support community resilience across the North Coast.

PG&E owns, operates, and maintains the microgrid circuit and controls the microgrid during “islanded” operation. In the event of a broader grid outage, the clean-energy microgrid provides indefinite power for the 19 connected customers by disconnecting or “islanding” from the broader grid when needed and becoming an independent, PG&E-operated grid segment. This ensures that airport flight service and rescue operations continue without interruption.

“The Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid represents the culmination of many years of research, innovation, and collaboration by the world’s leading microgrid experts. Thanks to this team’s smart work, microgrids now play a key role in PG&E’s ongoing efforts to harden our electrical system and enhance local grid resilience throughout Northern and Central California. We know how much our customers and communities need reliable energy, and this system not only increases local reliability, it also serves as the foundation for a replicable and scalable model for widely deploying multi-customer microgrids across PG&E’s service area. This gives communities a new tool in securing their resilience and clean energy goals,” said Jason Glickman, PG&E’s Executive Vice President, Engineering, Planning and Strategy.

Meeting critical resilience goals

The regional California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport (ACV) is in McKinleyville, California, and serves the greater North Coast community with over 50,000 flights per year, including commercial airline, private, and emergency medical flights. Adjacent to the airport, the US Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay provides search and rescue for 250 miles of rural coastline, from the Mendocino-Sonoma county line to the California-Oregon border.

Roads into Humboldt County are frequently closed by fires and mudslides, making air services a critical factor in regional emergency response.

“The California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport (ACV) is a lifeline to our community every day by keeping Humboldt County connected to the world alongside our partners at United Airlines, Avelo Airlines, American Airlines, REACH/Cal-Ore Life Flights, US Coast Guard-Sector Humboldt Bay, and many others. RCAM ensures that we can continue to keep that lifeline open through energy resilience, no matter what happens to the power grid,” said Cody Roggatz, Humboldt County’s Director of Aviation.

Research and development for the microgrid was supported through California’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC)—a statewide, customer-funded program that enables PG&E, other California investor-owned utilities and the California Energy Commission to execute emerging technology demonstration and deployment projects that address important grid needs. EPIC plays a vital role in helping drive the innovation needed to meet California’s policy and clean energy goals while also ensuring the safe, reliable, and affordable operation of the grid.

Part of a growing trend

The unique collaboration between RCAM project partners has informed meaningful technical and policy innovations including the development of the Community Microgrid Enablement Tariff and PG&E’s Community Microgrid Enablement Program (CMEP).

To date, PG&E has engaged with more than three dozen communities and customers to explore potential financial and infrastructure support options for developing microgrids and resilience solutions through the CMEP.

Additionally, PG&E along with Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric, are developing the Microgrid Incentive Program (MIP), leveraging a $200 million statewide fund dedicated to the development of clean energy microgrids supporting the critical needs of vulnerable populations and disadvantaged communities. The companies anticipate launching this program in late 2022.

Together, the MIP and PG&E’s CMEP provide comprehensive financial support for both the distributed energy resources and other costs necessary to develop and energize a microgrid, as well as the distribution upgrades necessary to enable the safe islanding of the microgrid.

The Schatz Center is partnering with several tribes in Northern California to support their clean energy, resilience, and climate response efforts. Cal Poly Humboldt also recently began design of a renewable energy microgrid to support campus resilience through clean generation. This microgrid will be part of the university’s sustainability framework, and will enable students in engineering, environmental sciences, and other programs to gain hands-on experience with innovative climate-friendly technologies.

More information

For more information about CMEP or to get started in exploring a community-developed microgrid visit PG&E’s Community Resilience Guide.

Learn more about RCAM and other microgrids being developed by the Schatz Center: http://schatzcenter.org/microgrids.

Explore RCEA’s programs and request an RCAM site tour: https://redwoodenergy.org/rcam/.

About PG&E

PG&E, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG), is a combined natural gas and electric utility serving more than 16 million people across 70,000 square miles in Northern and Central California. For more information, visit pge.com and pge.com/news.

About the Schatz Center

Since 1989, the Schatz Center has produced groundbreaking, renewable energy solutions that reduce climate change and pollution while increasing energy access and resilience. Located on the campus of Cal Poly Humboldt, the Schatz Center’s research efforts include microgrids, offshore wind, off-grid energy access, carbon life cycles, clean transportation, and more. The Center works closely with state agencies, local government, and Tribal nations in California, as well as with the World Bank Group, CLASP, IKEA Foundation, and others to support international energy access and resilience. Learn more at http://schatzcenter.org.

About RCEA

Established in 2003, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority is a local government joint powers agency whose members include the County of Humboldt, the seven cities within the county, and the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District. The Energy Authority's purpose is to develop and implement sustainable energy initiatives that reduce energy demand, increase energy efficiency, and advance the use of clean, efficient, and renewable resources available in the region. For more info, visit https://redwoodenergy.org.

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