Cloud Computing Meets Microgrids in New Palo Alto Project

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Cloud computing giant VMware is joining forces with one of the world’s tech capitals, Palo Alto, California, to explore the potential of community microgrid projects.

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Palo Alto, California photo by Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

The partners announced on Thursday that they will develop a proof-of-concept microgrid at VMware’s headquarters in Palo Alto. The project will test the resiliency offered by microgrids for both communities and corporations.

VMware also plans to bring its software know-how to the microgrid controller — the brain of a microgrid that distinguishes it from simpler distributed energy technologies. The Dell Technologies subsidiary will work with academic researchers to advance microgrid controllers and software and their ability to integrate the microgrid into the central grid.

With $7.09 billion in net revenue, VMware is ranked by Gigabit as the fifth largest enterprise software company in the world.

Emergency communications node for Palo Alto

For the city — home to Tesla, Facebook, Hewlett Packard and other major tech companies — the project will explore charging for the city’s emergency command vehicles. The microgrid also may serve an emergency communications node for the city to use during extended power outages, one that demonstrates an alternative to commonly used diesel back-up generators.

The microgrid’s design is still being worked out, but it will include an existing solar array and new energy storage. A request for proposals will seek bidders to design and build the energy storage component under a yet-to-be deterimined timeline, according to a city spokesperson.

VMware and the city plan to share data and lessons learned to enhance understanding of how a community microgrid affects  existing energy infrastructure.

The city already has a green energy portfolio. It’s electricity has been carbon neutral since 2013 and its natural gas supply since 2017. The microgrid will add intelligence to its energy management and enhance its electric reliability.

“Palo Alto has long been a leader in sustainability and our community has a strong commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and carbon impact,” said Palo Alto Mayor Liz Kniss. “The opportunity to partner with VMware to use this microgrid as a way to strengthen our emergency services could help advance our readiness as a community.”

The community microgrid also continues VMware’s push to become more sustainable. The company coupled the microgrid announcement with news that it achieved its goal for carbon neutrality in global operations two years ahead of its 2020 target. VMware says it wants to do more and sees the microgrid as the path forward.

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“VMware has already committed to powering 100 percent of our global operations with renewable power by 2020 as part of our Global Impact goals,” said Pat Gelsinger, VMware CEO. “We also recognize the need to do more, and challenge ourselves to apply technology and innovation in service of the pressing issues of our day. We believe the future includes more renewable energy delivered into a distributed, responsive, efficient and secure smart electrical grid.”

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The partners see the microgrid as an opportunity to explore collaboration between a public utility managing the electric distribution grid and a private company generating on-site power coupled with energy storage. The City of Palo Alto Utilities, a municipal utility, provides the city’s electricity.

From test bed to full communtiy microgrid

VMware envisions beginning with a proof-of-concept microgrid and expanding into a campus-level community microgrid that uses renewables, battery storage and controls networked with the municipal utility. During utility grid failure, the microgrid would island to supply power to critical systems.

The microgrid is the latest to emerge in California, a state giving microgrids a strong push through grants, a policy roadmap and a recently enacted law requiring that utilities find ways to support the development of microgrids.

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of She has been writing about energy for more than three 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.


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