Did you know that California experienced more than 57,000 wildfires from 2013 through 2019? That’s about 8,000 wildfires per year!
The frequency and intensity of California’s wildfires have continued to increase over the last few years, endangering lives, destroying homes and businesses, and creating lasting costs for local communities. To protect valuable infrastructure and mitigate further fire risk, utilities have been regularly implementing strategic planned power outages, known as Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events. While they are intended to protect communities, PSPS events can leave millions of customers without power for hours or even days, sometimes amidst sweltering temperatures.
As the prevalence of wildfire-related power outages has skyrocketed, more and more people are searching for low-cost, renewable, and resilient power for local communities.
A microgrid is an electric system that is capable of functioning independently from the electric grid. An essential component of a microgrid is a power generating source such as a generator, combined heat and power system, solar, or wind. Some microgrids contain multiple generating sources; others may contain battery energy storage to increase microgrid flexibility and capabilities.
Read on to learn more about the key attributes of microgrids and how they can deliver meaningful benefits to Californian communities.
As mentioned above, microgrids are capable of disconnecting from the electric grid in a process known as “islanding.” This means that when grid power is shut off due to equipment damage or a PSPS event, a microgrid can continue to provide power to its local community. This ensures that vulnerable community members can depend on life-saving medical devices and critical facilities like hospitals and fire departments can continue operating and providing essential services. Microgrids can also deliver critical power to community shelters that provide food, protection, and first aid to residents in need.
The electric grid primarily produces centralized power that is transmitted across various distances on transmission and distribution lines to customers. This infrastructure is extensive: California alone has about 40,000 miles of transmission lines. While the grid has successfully delivered energy in this manner for decades, roughly 5% of electricity is lost as it travels along transmission and distribution lines. To put this into context, this wasted energy costs U.S. consumers a whopping $6 billion each year.
This interconnected web of transmission lines is particularly vulnerable to damage from extreme weather like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. In California, PSPS events are commonly implemented specifically to depower transmission lines that can spark additional fires during high heat, wind, and other similar conditions.
Microgrids are strategically located to deliver power to nearby communities, eliminating the high costs associated with transmission and distribution losses. And because microgrids do not depend on transmission lines to deliver energy, communities can depend on them even during times of grid stress or failure. The increased efficiency and local siting of microgrids effectively translate to cheaper and more reliable energy for communities.
While some microgrids may use traditional diesel generators, the most impactful and environmentally friendly microgrids use renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and combined heat and power. In particular, combined solar and storage microgrids are effective at providing clean, renewable energy to wildfire-vulnerable and low-income communities that have disproportionately suffered the impacts of climate change.
Microgrids not only deliver affordable, clean energy, they also provide greater community benefits. They stimulate the local economy by increasing local job opportunities during both project construction and continued long-term operation and maintenance. Some developers like Renewable America also work directly with landowners to lease their land for microgrid projects, thus providing reliable long-term revenue to local members of the community.
Microgrids also reduce the economic impact of power outages on a community. Lost power can result in operational costs due to interrupted or delayed commercial processes, spoiled food and products, and even property damage. In 2019, a single California PSPS event was estimated to cost $2.5 billion in total economic losses! By providing continuous, reliable power to critical facilities like police stations, hospitals, schools, and grocery stores, microgrids help communities avoid expensive damage and losses during power outages.
In 2020 alone, California’s utilities performed more than twenty PSPS events in response to wildfires and extreme heat. This year, Caldor Fire burned more than 220,000 acres, destroyed 1,000 structures, and forced about 50,000 people to evacuate in the span of a single month. With this trend only predicted to intensify in coming years, we must invest in local energy sources like microgrids, that deliver affordable, reliable, and renewable energy to our communities.
Want to learn more? Contact Renewable America today for more information.