UC Berkeley Seeks Help as It Pursues Microgrid Project

June 8, 2021
UC Berkeley has issued an RFP for a financial consultant to help the university as it explores a renewable energy microgrid for its campus.

The University of California, Berkeley, has issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a financial consultant to help the university set up a renewable energy microgrid covering its campus.

After studying the issue for several years, the university late last year narrowed its options for replacing its aging natural gas-fired combined heat and power plant, which produces electricity and steam.

The university is now developing a final plan that will enable the campus to “creatively fund” and build within eight years a new clean and resilient microgrid that will fully phase out fossil fuels and be a model for higher education and other institutions, UC Berkeley said in a notice.

The financial consultant will help develop the final plan.

Interested bidders must participate in a mandatory prebid videoconference during the week of June 14. RFP bids are due July 9. Information about the solicitation is online at the university’s sourcing website. The RFP’s main contact is Norma Jones at [email protected].

Renewable microgrid driven by policy, operational issues

UC Berkeley’s plan to set up a renewable energy microgrid is driven by various factors, according to a December presentation about the university’s initiative to decarbonize its energy system.

On the policy side, the University of California system aims for its buildings and vehicles to be carbon neutral by 2025 by reducing greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible and by using carbon offsets to cover any remaining emissions.

Also, the university intends to get all of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2035.

From a practical point of view, UC Berkeley’s cogeneration plant is reaching the end of its life and its steam distribution system is inefficient. Officials expect the campus’ cooling needs will increase because of climate change.

The campus was hit with several public safety power shutoff power outages in 2019 that led to lost business days as well as research and class disruptions, according to the presentation.

UC Berkeley’s cogeneration plant, which produces steam and electricity, didn’t have enough capacity to fully power the campus during the power shutoffs, which were conducted to reduce the risk of wildfires.

University eyes microgrid options

The university is considering two microgrid options. The first is to replace the cogeneration plant with a central electric heat pump plant supplying hot and chilled water. The central electrified plant would be powered by clean electricity from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E).

The second option calls for adding one or two electric heat pump plants supplying hot and chilled water. The existing cogeneration plant would continue to provide steam to part of campus and produce some of its electricity. The option would cut gas use by 85%. Gas would be phased out as the university adds more on-site renewables, according to the presentation.

Campus officials said UC Berkeley is considering adding about 30 MW of on-site solar PV and a battery storage system to meet the campus’ growing electrical load, create energy resiliency and provide power back to the grid.

$250 million-$300 million price tag

The project is expected to cost $250 million to $300 million, but the university doesn’t have the debt capacity or funds to cover those costs, according to the presentation. Financing options include public-private partners, green bonds, state and federal research funding and environmental impact bonds.

The campus has a peak load of 32 MW, but the university expects its peak demand will grow by up to 190%, according to an initial study on its options to replace the cogeneration plant.

UC Berkeley has 1 MW of on-site solar and is adding 4 MW more, with options for microgrids and electric vehicle charging.

The cogeneration plant accounts for about 71% of the campus’ 190,000 metric tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions, according to the presentation. Another 3% of its greenhouse gas emissions comes from electricity UC Berkeley buys from PG&E.

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About the Author

Ethan Howland