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Top Alcatraz Project Just The Start For Princeton Power

The sun is shining on New Jersey-based Princeton Power Systems, a company that designs and manufacturers products for energy management, microgrid operations, and electric vehicle charging. Not only did it receive a 2014 Intersolar Award for its Alcatraz Island Microgrid Project at the North American conference earlier this month, but it also announced that it will design the first fleet of bidirectional electric vehicle charging stations at the Los Angeles Air Force Base (LAAFB) — a project that could revolutionize energy generation at the nation’s military bases.

alcatraz island

Photo by William Warby (CC BY 2.0 license)


Although microgrids are now a hot topic in the solar industry, when Princeton Power developed the Alcatraz Project in 2011, its micro-grid technology was still considered very unique. Alcatraz’s access to Pacific Gas and Electric’s electric grid was severed several years ago when a ship’s anchor accidentally cut the transmission line from the mainland. Since then, the island has relied on weekly shipments of approximately 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

But that all changed when Princeton Power installed a smart inverter system on the island. The system is designed to convert direct current generated by solar panels into alternating current to power lighting and appliances, and allows the solar installation to operate off the grid — on a microgrid. It’s a technology the company has been able to use in places where there is no electricity or places where it’s generated with diesel like the Caribbean Islands, Haiti, Jamaica, Bermuda, and remote areas of Africa. And it’s a technology that earned Princeton Power an award at the 2014 Intersolar North America conference.

“I think since then, there’s been a lot more talk about microgrids and energy storage,” said Darren Hammell, Executive Vice President and CSO of Princetown Power Systems. “People started looking at different concepts and asking, ‘Has anyone done this before?’ and we could point to Alcatraz and say, ‘This has been running for over two years now and we have real results and saved them a lot of fuel that they would have burned.'”

While Princeton Power is working on its largest microgrid project — a 5 MW PV system off the coast of Equatorial Guinea — it also hopes to spark a new conversation with its fleet of bidirectional electric vehicle charging stations at LAAFB.

During typical usage, the charging stations will charge the fleet of Nissan Leafs directly from the local utility grid, enabling LAAFB personnel to utilize the electric vehicles as transportation within the base. But when called upon (and when connected to the electric vehicle), the bi-directional charging station will switch power flow directions quickly to support vehicle-to-grid energy requests by discharging the electric vehicle’s on-board battery. Not only will this support the reliable operation of the transmission and distribution system, but discharging the battery can also support demand response and VAR support among other operating modes.

Hammell explained that the program is currently in the pilot phase. But, depending on what the Department of Defense finds by looking at the costs and benefits of the system, the program could have far-reaching effects on electric usage on military bases.

“If they can generate some value by doing this bi-directional charging, they can get some kind of check that can basically start to offset those costs, and if they’re able to do that there’s actually a mandate across the entire DOD that they have to buy the greener, more sustainable technology,” said Hammel. “If it works, and it could just be a 6-month, 1-year evaluation, the market would just be enormous. At every base, they’d be looking at these vehicles.”

Here’s hoping that good news continues to follow Princeton Power.

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