Yet again, a natural disaster is bringing alternative energy sources into the national headlines. The recent Kinkade Fire in northern California’s Sonoma County resulted in upwards of 180,000 evacuations and ravaged nearly 80,000 acres of land. At the same time, southern California struggled against the Tick Fire in Santa Clarita, which caused 50,000 evacuations and threatened a denser, more urban environment.
As the number of wildfires and other natural disasters continues to rise, the public’s attention is being drawn to unsustainable and problematic methods of power generation and distribution across the country. In fact, as wildfires raged many California residents were subjected to rolling blackouts as Pacific Gas & Electric (CA’s major utility company) attempted to minimize the risk of more fires resulting from poorly maintained or downed power lines.
A New Power Paradigm
As Government Technology magazine reports, California institutions including Santa Clara Junior College (SRJC) and Stone Edge Farm Estate Vineyard & Winery are taking steps to separate themselves from utility companies and create a more secure and resilient energy future. “Unless we change the infrastructure that runs our society, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble because we won’t be able to adapt to the significant changes that are happening to both the environment and technology in general,” says David Liebman, who oversees the effort to develop an independent microgrid at SRJC.
“In Sonoma County, microgrid systems would allow key institutions such as hospitals, municipal utilities, a college campus and certain government agencies to continue to operate in the event of a natural disaster,” GovTech notes. As the threat of natural disasters increases and utility company's power production and distribution methods become less stable and reliable, forward-thinking power consumers are turning to solar + storage and distributed generation. California is in the national spotlight now, but similar efforts are underway in parts of the country affected by hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, all of which threaten our traditional energy infrastructure.
Distributed generation decentralizes power production and distribution by allowing communities or campuses to generate, store, and distribute their own electricity through systems that can be disconnected from the greater electric grid. Many of these systems use solar panels to collect energy, others include wind and geothermal generation as well. In addition, “each microgrid that comes online, with its renewable energy sources, storage capacity and sophisticated control systems, makes the larger electrical power grid less reliant on fossil fuel power plants.”
Community Microgrids are the Solution
As UtilityDive explores, “Community Microgrids serve an entire community by ensuring indefinite renewables-driven backup power for critical community facilities such as fire stations, water and communications infrastructure, hospitals and emergency shelters.” They keep these facilities up and running during blackouts, and “depending on the sizing of the battery storage and the amount of sunshine, they can keep even more of the electric load online for certain periods.”
Even utility companies are beginning to recognize the importance of microgrids and distributed generation to the stability and resilience of our energy infrastructure. Motivated in part by recent difficulties, Pacific Gas & Electric may speed up the development of over 40 permanent microgrids across California. “‘There is a definite need to move toward some form of microgrid sectionalization,’ PG&E CEO William Johnson told the (California Public Utilities) Commission,” MicrogridKnowledge reports.
The Future of Energy Distribution
While community microgrids and energy sectionalization must become priorities for state and local governments, individual microgrid adopters are making a difference as well. Whether rural or urban homeowners who want to free themselves from dependence on utility companies or facility owners and operators at business centers, factories, hospitals, or college campuses, microgrids can ensure energy security and save money on utility bills as well.
At Solar Design Studio, our depth of experience in project design, management, and execution means we are well-positioned to assist consumers with all of their solar needs, from simple PV systems to microgrids and more. To learn more about distributed generation or other solar projects, contact us today!