City/Utility Partnership Leads to Microgrid at Fire Station in Portland, Oregon

Jan. 23, 2020
The city of Portland, with financial support from Portland General Electric, has installed a fire station microgrid that will not only ensure power for crucial services, but also train emergency workers in use of the technology.

The city of Portland, with financial support from Portland General Electric (PGE), has installed a fire station microgrid that will not only ensure power for crucial services, but also train emergency workers in use of the technology.

The project, at Fire Station 1, is one of three microgrid projects by PGE, which is seeking resiliency, especially given the potential for a large earthquake and continued wildfires in the region.

“A key component of the fire station project is education for first responders so that they will be trained to respond effectively and safely to emergencies involving these systems,” said Danny Grady, senior energy specialist, City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

Fire Station solar, courtesy PGE

When islanded from the grid, the solar plus storage microgrid will power specific loads — computers and communications equipment.

“Solar plus battery storage creates an opportunity for emergency response facilities like fire stations to operate independently from the grid. So when the grid is down for an extended period, emergency response staff can continue to meet the needs of the community,” Grady said.

Stepping stone to larger community microgrid

The microgrid also will allow the fire station to reduce its use of diesel back-up generation, and allow it to participate in PGE’s commercial and industrial demand response program.

The system consists of 30 kW of solar composed of 84x Silfab SLG-M 360 modules and 2x Solectria PV114TL inverters — owned by the city. It also includes an Energyport 30 kW/60 kWh lithium-ion battery, owned by PGE, and a 125 kW existing diesel generator now owned by Portland Fire & Rescue. The microgrid controller was designed by Ageto.

While the fire station won’t be used as a community shelter during emergencies, the city is planning a community shelter project.

“The city plans to use the lessons learned from this pilot project to implement a larger solar plus storage microgrid project at a community centered emergency shelter location in the future,” he said.

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The partnership between the city and PGE began a few years ago when the city was looking at installing solar on the rooftop of Fire Station 1, said Joe Collett, PGE’s emerging technologies product manager.

“We wanted to learn about resliency at fire stations, and so did the city,” he said.

Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and Portland Fire & Rescue formed a partnership with the utility for the project, supported by an $89,959 grant from the PGE Renewable Development Fund for the solar PV. PGE also provided a $25,000 research and development grant. Energy Trust of Oregon provided a $2,500 design assistance grant, said Grady.

PGE’s renewable development fund is made up of earnings from the utility’s Green Futures program, a green power program. Customers pay extra to support the development of renewable energy in the community. The research and development grant comes from an internal program under which a PGE steering committee reviews and chooses projects. The chosen projects are reviewed by the Oregon Public Utility Commission.

First use of battery in demand response

The city owns the energy storage system and is expected to earn income from participating in PGE’s demand response program, said Grady. It’s unclear how much the city will earn, he added.

PGE’s Collett said, “One of the exciting parts of this project: This will be the first battery energy storage system to be integrated into our demand response program. We’ll use it as a first step in realizing grid benefits and getting grid services from energy storage.”

Under the demand response program, PGE will communicate with the microgrid’s controller to signal a need for energy.

“We’re going through the integration process to see that these devices can talk to one another,” said Collett.

If the energy storage system is fully charged and capable of responding to events — an ideal scenario — the hope is that the microgrid could provide up to 30 kW, either 15 kW for four hours or 30 kW for two hours.

“All savings go to the customer, so this project may save the energy and money from utility bills that the city/fire station can put right back into programming, upgrades and other needs,” said Andrea Platt, a PGE spokeswoman.

Among PGE’s other plans are small microgrids in parks. By LO Kin-hei/Shutterstock.com

Other PGE microgrids

PGE has two other microgrid projects: a microgrid at the Beaverton Public Safety Center now under construction, plus a proposed series of small microgrids in parks designed to charge cell phones and other equipment during emergencies.

The utility is interested in providing resiliency and a plan for the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, a large earthquake expected to strike the region.

“This is a great pilot to help us learn about the needs of critical infrastructure and integrate new technology with existing technology,” he said. “There are a lot of interesting ways we can apply new technology to enhance critical infrastructure,” said Collett.

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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

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