Planners in Fremont, CA, appear to be the first to complete a solar microgrid system with battery backup for a fire station in the United States, seeking to be more hardened against wildfire, utility blackouts, hurricanes, or other threatening events.
The Fremont project got an early start in 2015, in cooperation with a California Energy Commission’s energy efficiency program, to demonstrate a solution for islanding of critical infrastructure. The infrastructure dedicated on April 2 is composed of 40-kilowatt solar arrays on car canopies combined with 110-kilowatt-hour battery energy storage systems at three fire stations in Fremont.
The project was developed in partnership with Gridscape Solution and the Fremont Chamber of Commerce, and was subsidized with funding from the CEC. The city takes the energy from Gridscape under a renewable 10-year power purchase agreement.
In addition to the protection of emergency service facilities against power outages, this program will also reduce utility bills by $350,000 over the 10-year PPA term, while providing guaranteed clean energy system maintenance and monitoring. The project also will decrease municipal greenhouse gas emission by around 220,00 pounds of carbon dioxide over 10 years.
“All fire stations are required to have a diesel backup to guarantee that they can operate 24×7, but the supply of diesel on hand in Fremont would only last 72 hours without replenishment. So the combination of solar plus storage provides a substantial cost savings benefit to the station, and to the city,” says Vipul Gore, the CEO of Gridscape.
The cost savings for the project will translate into a return on investment in 6 years, suggests Gore. “The ROI on the first station is 9 to 10 years, but with improvements in the other two stations, the ROI came down to 5 or 6 years,” he says. “We believe we can now do a project with an ROI of only 4 years,” he reckons.
The day-to-day cost of the microgrid is also in the ballpark. “For the fire stations, because of the CEC subsidy, we are providing electricity for 20 cents per kilowatt-hour, but that rate, of which the city only pays 8 or 9 cents/kWh,” says Gore. “Other microgrids can be built for less,” he adds. The cost goes down with size, to some degree. While some fire station microgrids like Fremont are 40-50 kW, others like major response units might need 100 kW, he says. For the Fremont project the goal was an 80% energy cost savings over diesel, which was achieved.
Gore believes the Fremont fire station model can be replicated in California, if not across the country. One other city in the San Francisco Bay Area considering a fire station microgrid is Redwood City. Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) is planning on at least one Solar Emergency Microgrid that the Clean Coalition is designing to provide renewables-driven power backup to critical facilities.
Apart from serving the fire station, the PAEC Solar Emergency Microgrid will provide renewables-driven power backup for critical facilities, such as police, emergency operations centers, emergency shelters, and other facilities prioritized by the jurisdiction — providing environmental, economic, and resilience benefits to the area, a project note describes.
A project to build a solar+storage community microgrid within the Montecito, CA, fire district is being developed as a national model for other communities across the country, according to the Clean Coalition and the World Business Academy. The two organizations are boot-strapping the project and have raised some funding for the estimated 1 MW microgrid, within the unincorporated community of about 10,000, in Santa Barbara County.
The Montecito project is one of eight different configurations across the country that the Clean Coalition hopes to develop as demonstration community microgrids, according to Craig Lewis, the founder of the Menlo Park, CA-based group.
Among other demonstration microgrids in California are the North Bay Community Resilience Initiative in Sonoma and Napa Counties, and the Valencia Gardens Energy Storage Project. In New York, projects include the Hunters Point Community Microgrid Project, and the Long Island Community Microgrid Project.
Perhaps the event that sparked greater attention on the need for emergency microgrids was the 2017 hurricane in Puerto Rico, where nearly half of all electricity was based on diesel. Planners there are now advocating solar microgrids for critical infrastructure such as hospitals, police and fire stations, emergency shelters, cell phone towers, water treatment plants, airports, sea ports, and other commercial and industrial centers that provide services during and after disasters, according to the Puerto Rico Energy Commission.
In the aftermath of Hurricane María, Tesla shipped Powerwall and Powerpack-based systems to the main island of Puerto Rico, as well as to the islands of Vieques and Culebra. The equipment was destined for a sanitary sewer treatment plant, the Arcadia water pumping station, the Ciudad Dorada elderly community, the Susan Centeno hospital, the Boys and Girls Club of Vieques, and a solar+battery system at a hospital in Puerto Rico, according to company statements.