A Good Trade to Keep the Lights on in San Francisco’s Bay Area

Nov. 15, 2019
With electric reliability now precarious in the San Francisco Bay Area, community power suppliers are making a deal with customers that benefits both: We give you low-cost energy resilience, you let us tap into your battery storage.

With electric reliability now precarious in the San Francisco Bay Area, community power suppliers are making a deal with customers that benefits both: We give you low-cost energy resilience, you let us tap into your battery storage.

Part of the goal of the innovative program is to help customers avoid public safety power shutoffs from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), said JP Ross, senior director of local development, electrification and innovation for East Bay Community Energy (EBCE), one of the power providers.

The utility shutoffs, designed to help avert wildfires, have led to power outages for millions of customers this fall.

So the program gives customers a way to keep power flowing during the shutoffs — or any type of power outage. Meanwhile, the community power providers gain a new way to meet their resource adequacy requirements.

The program also lowers costs for customers that have solar-plus-storage systems.

Energy resilience through islanding

Under the plan, 6,000 homes and hundreds of businesses in Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties will receive storage or solar-plus-storage that can island from the grid — a key attribute of nanogrids and microgrids.

“All these systems must be able to island, which requires special equipment,” Ross said. “They would island at the house or business level.”

The power suppliers, EBCE, Peninsula Clean Energy, Silicon Valley Power and Silicon Valley Clean Energy, are looking for vendors to supply the systems. To that end, they have released a request for proposals (RFP) for the installation of 30 MW of battery storage for their customers. Bidders can also add solar to their proposals, which are due Dec. 23. The suppliers expect to approve contracts in April 2020.

Even though customers get their power from the community agencies, some are affected by shutoffs because PG&E provides transmission and distribution to the power suppliers.

When the utility turns off power to the area, the community agencies go dark.

The RFP asks for proposals to install battery systems on local homes and businesses that can be combined with new or existing solar systems. At least 50% of the systems are for residents and the rest for multifamily properties and commercial buildings in the San Francisco Bay area. The project also aims to support customers with life dependent medical equipment and businesses in disadvantaged communities.

The projects are expected to be up and running by next summer.

How customers save money

Under the program, battery and solar suppliers — most likely aggregators — will work out with the end customers the details of how much solar and storage they’ll receive.

The customers will acquire the storage and solar at reduced costs or lower financing costs by offering up a portion of their battery capacity to the community power agencies.

“We will pay the aggregator for the battery capacity and the aggregator will flow that payment as savings through to the customer,” he said. That may be in the form of lower financing costs.

New approach for power suppliers

Photo courtesy EBCE

The program aims to enable the community power providers to fulfill state “resource adequacy” requirements. This is energy generating capacity that community providers and utilities must acquire in order to provide safe and reliable operation of the grid.

In the past, the agencies and utilities have purchased power from distant power plants to fulfill this requirement. But under this program, resource adequacy will be met by new local solar and storage systems that also assure resiliency.

The aggregator or aggregators chosen through the RFP will operate the batteries and that operation will be invisible to the homeowners and businesses, said Ross.

The aggregators will discharge the batteries between 4 pm and 9 pm, when the agencies need the power.

A California Public Utilities (CPUC) program called proxy demand response allows for aggregation of distributed energy assets for sale to load-serving entities, Ross noted.

The energy resilience program is based in part on the Oakland Clean Energy Initiative. To provide power needed when a peaking plant was shutting down, the EBCE signed a 10-year agreement with SunRun for 500 kW of energy storage in the Oakland area based on new solar-plus-storage installations. Those resources were located on low-income housing.

PG&E’s power shutoffs have sparked a need for more programs like the Oakland project, said Ross.

“Residents and businesses are concerned about power shutoffs and want a solution. The bottom line is we are making resilience less expensive for customers,” he said.

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

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