Solar-Storage Microgrid Powering up Native American Reservation in California

A new solar-storage combination microgrid is now up and running to power government offices, businesses and American Red Cross shelter sites throughout a Native America reservation in northern California, partners in the project announced Thursday.

Blue Lake Rancheria launched its low-carbon community microgrid. The plant combines a 500-kW solar photovoltaic system built by REC Solar with a 950-kWh Tesla battery storage, all managed and controlled by Siemens’ Spectrum Power Microgrid Management System software.

“The Blue Lake Rancheria community is leading the way in its commitment to the environment,” said Alan Russo, senior vice president of sales and marketing at REC Solar. “We enjoyed working alongside a customer with shared values and a willingness to build such innovative energy solutions.”

The microgrid was developed in collaboration with Humboldt State University’s Schatz Energy Research Center, Siemens, Idaho National Laboratory and other partners. It is partially funded through a $5 million grant from the California Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program.

The microgrid is anticipated to help Blue Lake Rancheria grow its clean energy job base by 10 percent and operate independently of the power grid while working in coordination with local utility Pacific Gas & Electric. The tribe could save more than $200,000 annually in energy costs while reducing at least 150 tons of carbon emissions per year, according to the release.

“At its core, this microgrid is an example of motivated governments investing in distributed grid improvements and low-carbon energy in a novel and replicable way,” said Arla Ramsey, Blue Lake Rancheria’s vice chair. “Our partners have contributed their expertise and goodwill far above what we expected. This partnership approach has transformed our energy sector with significant employment and other economic co-benefits.”

The software is able to accurately predict power needs through integrated weather data, load forecasting and load-shed scenarios. In grid-connected mode, the software will help the tribe reduce peak loads and conduct other energy management optimization to help relieve pressures on the larger grid, according to Siemens’ release. In cases of emergency when the larger grid is down, the system will operate in islanded mode. In both scenarios, the software prioritizes the use of the cleanest and most financially beneficial forms of energy, in this case solar and battery storage, within a portfolio of on-site generation sources.

“The continuing trend toward decentralized energy is made feasible in large part by the introduction of intelligent software to manage and control a vast array of energy resources,” said Pat Wilkinson, vice president at Siemens Digital Grid. “With our intelligent microgrid management software, Blue Lake Rancheria is able to rely on a complex mix of generation and storage to work together to deliver efficient, reliable and cleaner power for the Tribe’s government offices and other critical infrastructure.”

The Blue Lake Rancheria is a small reservation made up of Indians from the Humboldt Bay region who were forced out of their original lands. The site was set up by executive order in 1908 as a refuge for the homeless Native Americans, according to reports.

It was dissolved by the federal government in the 1950s and reinstated in 1983, according to the tribe’s website.

Solar-Storage Microgrid Powering up Native American Reservation in California, by Editorial Staff, Electric Light & Power, April 27, 2017.

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