California and Massachusetts are preparing to spend millions to support microgrid projects as the microgrids—energy systems that can run separately from the wider grid system to protect critical facilities from power outages—are gaining steam nationally and worldwide.
In response to a request for proposals for microgrid demonstration projects that support California’s goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions, the California Energy Commission (CEC) on Feb. 20 selected 10 out of 60 proposals to receive $52 million in funding, up from an initial plan to spend $44.7 million.
As required, the proposals all include distributed renewable energy resources such as rooftop solar. The project sponsors will provide $71.9 million in funding to go with the CEC investments.
The CEC sought microgrid proposals serving three distinct types of categories: military bases, ports and Native American tribes; disadvantaged communities; and microgrids that provide “clear and definable” added value to end users of investor-owned utility customers.
The three largest projects based on total investment are Willdan Energy Solutions’ $19-million San Jose community microgrid, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s $16.4-million military base microgrid and the Pala Band of Mission Indians’ $15.8-million microgrid project.
The Pala proposal, for example, includes photovoltaic arrays, battery storage, thermal energy storage and energy efficiency improvements to serve the Pala Casino Resort & Spa and tribal members, who live about 30 miles from San Diego.
The Pala project includes an energy exchange platform in which tribal members can buy and sell energy in a way that will promote energy efficiency, conservation and renewables, according to the tribe.
An $11-million project proposed by the University of California San Diego will scale up an existing microgrid at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Miramar air base in Southern California. The existing microgrid, which grew out of a 2014 CEC RFP, includes 7 megawatts of fossil-fueled generation, 3.2 MW of landfill gas generation and 1.3 MW of solar. Firms involved in building the microgrid include Schneider Electric, Black & Veatch, General Dynamics and Larco Development, according to the Marines.
Meanwhile, on the East Coast, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is awarding $1.1 million to 12 communities to study the feasibility of setting up microgrids that would lower customer energy costs, cut greenhouse gas emissions and provide increased grid resiliency.
The grants, intended to help projects move through the early development stage and attract third-party investment, will be used for feasibility studies on 14 potential projects at sites including affordable housing facilities, hospitals, fire and police departments, gas stations, public schools, emergency shelters, grocery stores and water and wastewater treatment plants, the state agency said Feb. 21.
The efforts in Massachusetts and California come as the market for microgrids is growing worldwide.
North America, for example, has about 3,780 MW of installed microgrid capacity and about 3,200 MW of planned projects, according to Navigant Research. Worldwide, there were about 20,770 MW of installed and planned microgrid projects at the end of last year, the consulting firm said in a recent report.
California is “far and away” the leader in North American microgrids, according to Adam Wilson, a Navigant research analyst. Northeastern states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York are also fostering microgrids, especially in an effort to bolster grid resiliency, Wilson said.
The decline in renewable energy and energy storage costs are helping drive the microgrid market, according to Wilson. Facilities that used diesel generators for backup power are switching to renewable-oriented microgrids, partly for cost reasons, he said.
Navigant expects microgrid growth in the next decade to be “substantial,” partly driven by organizations that want to be protected from breakdowns in an aging grid, according to Wilson.