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Building the Business Case for Fire Station Microgrids in California

Peter Asmus
Oct 12, 2018

Overhead Power Lines 7

Though California wild fires have receded from front page news, these threats to reliable electricity supplies have stimulated interest in microgrids that serve critical community assets, including fire stations themselves. Though many of these facilities have historically relied upon backup fossil generators, declining costs of solar PV and batteries is kindling interest in a more sustainable solution.

As noted in a recent blog, proposals by utilities to shut off power to regions in extreme fire danger is boosting interest in microgrids in California. New legislation is creating tariffs and streamlined interconnection procedures.

Gridscape Solutions, a startup based in Fremont, California, has already deployed three microgrids at fire stations in Fremont under a California Energy Commission (CEC) grant focused on the pairing of solar PV with batteries to provide islanding capabilities. These projects also sired 10-year power purchase agreements (PPAs), which may represent a pathway for financing similar microgrids in the future. For example, the company is also negotiating with the City of Stockton to develop a portfolio of microgrids at several fire stations using this PPA approach—part of an emerging energy as a service trend.

Business Solutions through Microgrids

Gridscape Solutions was awarded a second second CEC grant grant. This develops microgrids in three cities—Stockton, Fontana, and Richmond—but they would be connected virtually via a smart grid distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) software platform.

The microgrids are noteworthy from a technology perspective because they move beyond the current market focus on solar PV and energy storage to include demand response (DR) and energy efficiency measures (as well as EVs) within its pool of distributed energy resources (DER). While such a combination of resources is noteworthy on its own, perhaps the most innovative aspect of these microgrids is that the integration of concepts is more aligned with virtual power plants (VPPs) and DERMSs. Navigant Research covered this subject in a recent webinar.

The focus of the majority of microgrids deployed today is internal optimization via cost reduction, resource optimization, and resilience through islanding. Gridscape Solutions is creating business models that can connect multiple customers (and behind-the-meter DER) into a virtual network via a cloud-based controls platform. The company is hardly alone in this endeavor. Nevertheless, it is one of the few smart grid software companies to focus on building the business case among portfolios of municipal and rural fire stations and other critical facilities.

Satellites Open Critical Facilities Communication during Emergencies

During an emergency such as a wild fire, these critical facilities need to not only stay online but also to communicate with each other in a secure and reliable way. With its second CEC grant, Gridscape Solutions sought to validate the capability for end-to-end cybersecure emergency communications based on a satellite backbone’s ability to talk to five different DER elements (solar PV, energy storage, mobile distributed storage, EV charging with vehicle-to-grid functionality, and DR). Anticipating the potential for cell tower and electricity outages, this project also looked into a hybrid telecom network (that along with satellite) relied on wireless LTE networks.

Yet another goal of this project is to develop a standardized microgrid configuration that could serve as the basis for an adaptable business case for not only fire stations, but also emergency shelters and police stations. These urban microgrids could also be optimized by Gridscape’s cloud-based DERMS.

The microgrid space is populated with the well-established technology companies (ABB, General Electric, Schneider Electric, and Siemens Industry, Inc.) that bring muscle to the market. Yet innovation is also bubbling up from startups that come to the challenge of resilience with fresh ideas and bridge microgrids to VPPs and DERMS.