Community Microgrids Offer “Repeatable” Way to Replace Fossil Fuel Peakers in California

California should make funds available for community microgrids because they offer a “repeatable market opportunity” to replace fossil fuel peakers, says a non-profit developer.

community microgridThe Clean Coalition made the case for community microgrids as part of state effort to create a roadmap to commercialize microgrids.

“Using community microgrids to replace natural gas peaker plants is a repeatable market opportunity and will bring added resilience and environmental health benefits to communities already exposed to fossil fuel based generating plants,” said the Clean Coalition in comments filed with the California Energy Commission.

The non-profit organization called for the commission to create an initiative that would make funding available to stage, design and plan community microgrids. A handful of other lead states already have community microgrid programs underway, among them Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

Community microgrids need special consideration because they can provide system-wide benefits to electricity consumers, according to the Clean Coalition. In addition to displacing diesel, community microgrids can provide reliable energy, add renewables, and strengthen the transmission and distribution system.

However, technical and market barriers make them hard to develop, the Clean Coalition said. Among other things, it is difficult to monetize some of the benefits of community microgrids, such as providing a refuge during a storm or offering a place to charge phones and buy groceries when the grid is down.

The Clean Coalition suggested that California launch a community microgrid initiative to:

  • Assess the benefits and costs of a distributed energy resources (DER) electricity system.
  • Showcase that at least 25 percent of the total energy consumed within a distribution substation grid area can be sourced from local renewables.
  • Ensure that the commission investments will allow for rapid and cost-effective proliferation and replication by focusing on the basic building block of the electricity system: the distribution substation grid area.
  • Test the real-world capability of DER and the Monitoring, Communications, and Control (MC2) systems that are required to operate the electricity system of the future.
  • Research how DER can provide community resilience by using local renewables, energy storage, MC2 and other DER to offer indefinite renewables-driven power backup to critical community facilities like hospitals and emergency response operations.
  • Demonstrate use of the distribution system operator model where DER-rich distribution grids have clear transactional interfaces with the traditional transmission grid: at the transmission distribution interface, which occurs at the substations that bridge the transmission and distribution grids, operated by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and distribution system operators respectively with clean demarcations that have no overlap.

The Clean Coalition also offered specific examples of where community microgrids present better solutions than conventional power industry fixes. These include a Southern California Edison’s proposal before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to repower and refurbish the Ellwood natural gas peaker plant in Goleta.

“A community microgrid system comprised of local renewables, energy storage, demand response, and advanced inverter functionality represents a technically superior and more cost-effective solution than upgrading the Ellwood peaker plant,” the Clean Coalition said.

A community microgrid also would be a better alternative than the proposed Puente natural gas peaker plant in Oxnard, a disadvantaged community already dealing with environmental health impacts from fossil fuels, the group said.

The Clean Coalition hopes the CEC, CPUC and CAISO will consider the community microgrid initiative as they develop their microgrid policy roadmap. The group has been holding a series of public stakeholder meetings to devise the roadmap.

“The workshop provided a venue to brainstorm and discuss barriers to microgrid commercialization, but there has fundamentally been no change in any of the key barriers since the last workshop,” said the Clean Coalition. “It is clear that funding needs to be provided to research and develop solutions to overcome.”

Should California create a Community Microgrid Initiative? Why or why not? Please post your comments below or on our LinkedIn Group: Community Microgrids and Local Energy.

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Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.

Comments

  1. Devon Wilson says:

    There is absolutely no way that the microgrid can replace fossil fuel without a decentralized none intermittent source of renewable energy.This is a market pitch for what they call hybrid power plants which is a mix of renewable energy and diesel fuel generators.The concept of microgrid and decentralized energy is a independent source of renewable energy, it stand alone.The technology for this stand alone renewable energy prime mover is available.This technology is very disruptive so the powers that be would not want it to make entry into the market.There is so much investment in wind and solar they would prefer to invest some more money in storage to supplement them but that will not close the intermittent gap.

  2. Heather Matteson says:

    The only way to lower our reliance on fossil is to use nuclear for baseload. Intermittent sources require backup from fossil – period.
    We are already behind, with most of our storage being pumped hydro, and not many more options for new dams and reservoirs. Batteries are way behind. We cannot effectively utilize more renewables until we figure out some massive storage solutions.

  3. Freestate says:

    This is all feasible if the software works, the sun shines, the wind blows, and people are willing to pay much, much more. The distribution system operator model still means that several people have to be available 24-7 to ensure the dispatch outcomes you want. You’re going to need higher taxes and rates to bankroll your science project.

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