Anne Ward Ernst, Index-Tribune
The region’s recent round of PG&E-forced power outages caused long lines at gas stations, demand for bags of ice and generators, and spurred more conversation around the concept of electrical microgrids.
The microgrid concept is broad and can be utilized in a variety of ways, but the basic idea is to create an island of electricity self-reliance, of sorts, as it pertains to powering neighborhoods and succinct communities. In some cases, microgrids are created as back-up electrical power sources when public utility power outages occur. In other cases microgrids are intended for self-reliance and as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“We have, in the city, talked about the need to have a minigrid,” said Sonoma Mayor Amy Harrington after the fourth power outage imposed by Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) so-called Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) in October.
The Sonoma Valley Unified School District is already in partnership with the Palo Alto-based Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to install a microgrid on the district’s bus barn, said Bruce Abbott, associate superintendent of the school district.
EPRI received a research grant to install a potential bus barn microgrid that will provide power to the main grid, and after its research project is complete the equipment will be left behind for the district to use as either a revenue generator – by selling the power it produces – or as a way to charge its electric bus fleet, for example, Abbott said.
The district already has solar panels installed at all its schools – the largest expense in an alternate power source – and Abbott said the district is exploring options for storing more energy and being able to independently power each school off the solar system during PG&E outages.
“We’re just starting that” exploratory work, which includes figuring out just how much power schools need to continue instruction, he said.
As for the City of Sonoma, Harrington said there are plans to invite Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) to present ideas in public meetings – to help the city better understand what options are out there for energy independence for individuals, businesses and communities.