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PG&E strengthens community resilience with microgrid solutions

Wildfire
Credit: Photo by Michael Held on Unsplash

The California Public Utilities Commission has approved Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s (PG&E’s) microgrid proposals, which are designed to reduce the number of customers affected by Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events and mitigate current impacts.

PG&E aims to enhance and expand efforts to prevent wildfires as high temperatures, extreme dryness and winds increase California’s wildfire threats. A PSPS, used when severe weather threatens the electric system, allows the utility to turn off electricity to reduce the risk of wildfire.

The company’s Community Wildfire Safety Program includes plans to make its electric system safer by integrating new grid technology, hardening the electric system and performing enhanced vegetation management. Microgrids are one tool in these efforts.

Temporary generation microgrid solutions

So far this year, PG&E has reserved more than 450 MW of temporary mobile generation to be deployed in the following four ways, each with a unique objective:

  1. Substation microgrids: PG&E will use temporary generation at safe-to-energize substations to support those affected by transmission line outages during PSPS events. PG&E is preparing 63 substations to be ready to connect temporary generators, subject to operational logistics and generator availability. The company will also leverage existing local, permanent generation sources.
  2. Temporary microgrids: PG&E will serve designated areas like “main street” corridors by isolating them from the wider grid and re-energizing them using temporary generation during an outage. These temporary microgrids will be used in selected areas such as, medical facilities and pharmacies, police and fire stations, gas stations and banks.
  3. Backup power support: PG&E will deploy temporary generation to critical customers whose failure of existing backup power would affect public safety. Deployment would be dependent on generator availability and subject to operational considerations. PG&E has also worked closely with the California Hospital Association and Hospital Council of Northern and Central California to identify hospitals supporting COVID-19 response that may experience a PSPS event, ensuring that those hospitals remain energized in a PSPS event.
  4. Community Resource Centers: PG&E will provide Community Resource Centers to support customers and communities affected by PSPS events. Some of these facilities may need temporary generation in order to give customers a climate-controlled location. PG&E remains flexible with its plans due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Community Microgrid Enablement Program

The CPUC recently approved PG&E’s new Community Microgrid Enablement Program, solidifying the company’s partnership with local communities to develop microgrids serving local critical facilities and/or customers with disabilities that are not already served by other solutions PG&E offers.

The program will help communities design microgrids to enhance technical support, improve access to utility information, provide financial support as well as tariffs to support the flows of services, energy and costs among parties. The program aims to be fully developed and implemented by November 2020, according to the company.

The future community microgrid projects will be modeled on the Redwood Coast Airport Renewable Energy Microgrid project; a multi-customer microgrid project with PV solar + battery storage on schedule to be operational in December 2020. The project aims to provide renewable energy for 18 customer accounts and will be able to disconnect from the broader grid and operate independently.

“As PG&E continues our enhanced and expanded efforts to reduce wildfire risks, we are also working to reduce the scope, duration and impact of future PSPS events. A key piece of this strategy is developing and deploying microgrids,” said Andy Vesey, Utility CEO and President.

“While PG&E’s temporary generation program is currently focused on 2020, our work to make the grid safer and more resilient will continue well into the future. Partnering with our communities on customized microgrid solutions for the long term will be critically important,” Vesey concluded.