Community Microgrids Offer “Repeatable” Way to Replace Fossil Fuel Peakers in California

May 30, 2017
California should make funds available for community microgrids because they offer a “repeatable market opportunity” to replace fossil fuel peakers, says a non-profit developer.

California should make funds available for community microgrids because they offer a “repeatable market opportunity” to replace fossil fuel peakers, says a non-profit developer.

“Using community microgrids to replace natural gas peaker plants is a repeatable market opportunity and will bring added resilience and environmental health benefits to communities already exposed to fossil fuel based generating plants,” said the Clean Coalition in comments filed with the California Energy Commission.

The non-profit organization called for the commission to create an initiative that would make funding available to stage, design and plan community microgrids. A handful of other lead states already have community microgrid programs underway, among them Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

Community microgrids need special consideration because they can provide system-wide benefits to electricity consumers, according to the Clean Coalition. In addition to displacing diesel, community microgrids can provide reliable energy, add renewables, and strengthen the transmission and distribution system.

However, technical and market barriers make them hard to develop, the Clean Coalition said. Among other things, it is difficult to monetize some of the benefits of community microgrids, such as providing a refuge during a storm or offering a place to charge phones and buy groceries when the grid is down.

The Clean Coalition suggested that California launch a community microgrid initiative to:

  • Assess the benefits and costs of a distributed energy resources (DER) electricity system.
  • Showcase that at least 25 percent of the total energy consumed within a distribution substation grid area can be sourced from local renewables.
  • Ensure that the commission investments will allow for rapid and cost-effective proliferation and replication by focusing on the basic building block of the electricity system: the distribution substation grid area.
  • Test the real-world capability of DER and the Monitoring, Communications, and Control (MC2) systems that are required to operate the electricity system of the future.
  • Research how DER can provide community resilience by using local renewables, energy storage, MC2 and other DER to offer indefinite renewables-driven power backup to critical community facilities like hospitals and emergency response operations.
  • Demonstrate use of the distribution system operator model where DER-rich distribution grids have clear transactional interfaces with the traditional transmission grid: at the transmission distribution interface, which occurs at the substations that bridge the transmission and distribution grids, operated by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and distribution system operators respectively with clean demarcations that have no overlap.

The Clean Coalition also offered specific examples of where community microgrids present better solutions than conventional power industry fixes. These include a Southern California Edison’s proposal before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to repower and refurbish the Ellwood natural gas peaker plant in Goleta.

“A community microgrid system comprised of local renewables, energy storage, demand response, and advanced inverter functionality represents a technically superior and more cost-effective solution than upgrading the Ellwood peaker plant,” the Clean Coalition said.

A community microgrid also would be a better alternative than the proposed Puente natural gas peaker plant in Oxnard, a disadvantaged community already dealing with environmental health impacts from fossil fuels, the group said.

The Clean Coalition hopes the CEC, CPUC and CAISO will consider the community microgrid initiative as they develop their microgrid policy roadmap. The group has been holding a series of public stakeholder meetings to devise the roadmap.

“The workshop provided a venue to brainstorm and discuss barriers to microgrid commercialization, but there has fundamentally been no change in any of the key barriers since the last workshop,” said the Clean Coalition. “It is clear that funding needs to be provided to research and develop solutions to overcome.”

Should California create a Community Microgrid Initiative? Why or why not? Please post your comments below or on our LinkedIn Group: Community Microgrids and Local Energy.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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