James: Welcome to everyone. I’m James Jensen, today’s webinar chair. I’m a contractor supporting the office of Indian Energy, Policy, and Programs Tribal Energy Webinar Series. Today’s webinar titled Tribal Microgrids, Energy Storage, and Resilience is the final webinar of the 2019 DOE Tribal Energy Webinar Series.
Let’s quickly go over some event details. Today’s webinar is being recorded and will be made available on DOE’s Office of Indian Energy, Policy, and Programs website. It will be available in about one week. Copies of today’s Power Point presentation will be posted to the web shortly after this webinar. They may actually already be posted or will be posted very shortly, so if you’re really excited to get the slides, you can check our webpage during the webinar and maybe download that.
Everyone will receive a post-webinar email with a link to the page where the slides and recording will be located. Because we are recording this webinar, all phones have been muted. We will answer your written questions at the end of the final presentation. You can submit a question at any time by clicking on the question button located in the webinar control box on your screen and type in your question. Let’s get started with opening remarks from Lizana Pierce.
Miss Piece is a senior engineer and deployment supervisor in the office of Indian Energy, Policy, and Programs. She is stationed in Golden, Colorado. Lizana is responsible for managing technical assistance and education and outreach activities on behalf of the office, implementing national funding opportunities and administering the resulting tribal energy project grants and agreements.
She has 25 years of experience in project development and management and assisting tribes in developing their energy resources for nearly 20 years. She holds a bachelor’s of science degree in mechanical engineering from Colorado State University and pursued a master’s in business administration through the University of Northern Colorado. Lizana, the virtual floor is now yours.
Lizana: Thank you, James, and hello, everyone. I join James in welcoming you to the eighth and final webinar for the 2019 series. This webinar series is sponsored by the Office of Indian Energy, Policy, and Programs, otherwise referred to for short the Office of Indian Energy. The Office of Indian Energy directs, fosters, coordinates, and implements energy planning, education, management, and programs that assist tribes with energy development, capacity building, energy infrastructure, energy costs, and electrification of Indian lands and homes.
To provide this assistance, the deployment program works within the Department of Energy across government agencies and with Indian tribes and organizations to help those Indian tribes in Alaska native villages overcome the barriers to energy development. Our deployment program is composed of a three-pronged approach consisting of financial assistance, technical assistance, and education and capacity building. This tribal energy webinar series is just one example of our education and capacity building efforts.
The webinar series is also a part of the Office of Indian Energy’s efforts to support fiscally responsible energy business and economic development decision-making and information sharing amongst tribes. It is intended to provide attendees with information on the tools and resources to develop and implement tribal energy plans, programs, and projects. We’ll also highlight tribal energy case studies and identify business strategies tribes can use to expand their energy options and develop sustainable local economies.
Today’s webinar will focus on microgrids and why and how tribes are using them. In recent years, tribes have shown increased interest in microgrids. Among the reason for this interest is the potential for microgrids to help tribal communities improve resilience, ease local energy resources, and control energy costs. However, the potential benefits of microgrids are hardly dependent on the variables of each specific situation. This webinar hopefully will help provide attendees with information that can assist tribal governments and project leaders in identifying microgrid opportunities suited to your unique situations.
We do hope this webinar series is useful to you, so we also welcome your feedback. Please let us know if there are ways we could make the series better. We are now planning the 2020 webinar series, so if you do have comments let us know so we can consider those in our 2020 planning. With that, I’ll turn the virtual floor back over to James. James?
James: Thank you, Lizana. Before we get to the presentations, I will introduce all of today’s presenters. For our first presentation we’ll hear from Robert Wood. Bob is an electrical engineer at NREL in the applied engineering team focused on microgrid projects, incorporating renewable energy generators, energy storage and controls. He has been at NREL for about a year and has worked on microgrids and controls for 14 years.
Prior to working at NREL, Bob worked at IPERC, a subsidiary of SNC Electric where he provided technical oversight on fixed installation and textile microgrids. Bob also worked for the U.S. Army research lab on power electronics design, electrical vehicle components, and microgrid components.
Following Bob, we will hear from Jana Ganion. Jana is a sustainability and government affairs director for the Blue Lake Rancheria’s tribal government. Jana has established the tribe’s strategy for zero carbon resilience. She has led development of low carbon community scale and _____ scale microgrids, electric vehicle infrastructure, and conduct strategic planning and sustainability time of action, both mitigation and adaptation; emergency preparedness and economic development.
Jana investigates policies, programs, and investments to achieve rapid cost-effective transition to decarbonized and resilient communities for the resulting social, environmental, and economic co-benefits. Following Jana, we will hear from Dave Messier. Dave Works as the rural energy coordinator for the Tanana Chief Conference as a nonprofit inner tribal consortium serving the nearly 37 communities in interior Alaska.
Dave has been working on rural energy needs in bush communities since 2009. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and an MBA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Dave and his wife Heidi have two children and are proud to call Fairbanks home.
Our final presenter will be Dan Malcom. Dan is the planning manager for the Agua Caliente _____ _____ Indian. He has worked for the tribe for over 13 years. His responsibilities include developing land use, transportation, environmental management, and renewable energy plans and/or feasibility studies. Building regulations, code enforcements, and facilitating day-to-day coordination with federal and state agencies and local governments.
Dan has a bachelor’s of science degree in planning and development, and a master’s of planning from the University of Southern California. Thanks to each of our presenters for making the time to join us today. With that, let’s get started with our first presentation. Bob, please proceed once your slides are up.
Robert: Thank you for the introduction, James. As he mentioned, I’m from National Renewable Energy Lab. I was asked to give a little bit of background in terms of microgrids, what they are, what are some of the components, and how do they function, and so can you advance the next slide?
First, I wanted to kind of give a little background on what a microgrid is on a fairly high level before diving into some of the components. First, to kind of start with a definition, it’s basically a group of loads and sources in a discreet electrical area. It can be connected to the grid, the wider grid, and it can run in an islanded mode as well. Some microgrids are kind of never connected to the grid either because they’re on an island or they’re in a very remote location where there isn’t a connection to a larger grid.
There’s two primary modes of operation. It’s either connected to the grid or it’s not. Any remote facility is always operating in an island mode, but any concept of a system that’s grid connected or not still applies. Next slide.
There’s a lot of different applications that you can use microgrids for. It depends kind of on the orientation of the equipment, the buildings, and kind of what the desires of what you want the microgrid to do. It’s used a lot in commercial or industrial areas where the focus is how do we reduce our costs but also provide backup power in emergency situations. You see this a lot as well with community or city or utilities wanting to improve their reliability or to meet energy and emission targets.
Facilities are another place that we see a lot of growth in microgrids. A good example is Department of Defense where they’re looking at a base and how do we provide emergency power to some of these facilities if the grid does have equipment. And then the last kind of piece of microgrids is rural communities as I kind of mentioned before. This includes islanded communities. We do a lot of work in the Caribbean and other areas and also fairly remote places like Alaska.
Next slide. So, why all this focus on microgrids? There’s several benefits. The first is reliability. It’s providing a backup power system for the grid when a grid goes out. It allows you to incorporate more fuel sources, so instead of just saying, oh, when the power goes out we’ll fire up a backup generator you can add components like energy storage unit, you can add renewables and a lot of other pieces to help manage fuel sources especially in a long outage. There’s a lot of economic reasons that people are moving toward microgrids. They can provide grid-tied services, so things like peak shaving, voltage and frequency stabilization, those kinds of things, and there are certain utilities that will pay to have those services.
You can increase your energy production quite a bit and also tie-in some energy efficient measures. Other components that are reasons that people go down the path of microgrids are improved power quality, combined heat and power integration, so a generator that generates both heat and power can be integrated very well with microgrids, and then also for electrification. Allowing the microgrid to kind of expand the area that is being covered.
Next slide. So, of course with any emerging technology there’s always challenges. Renewables, although, have great potential and cheap energy, it’s highly variable and requires backup sources in case it goes down. It’s typically a much weaker grid and therefore it's much more difficult to control. It operates in multiple different manners and therefore the control has to be able to do a bunch more things than it does normally.
One of the things I mentioned as a benefit is the increased resilience. Well, one of the issues is how do you quantify numerically what that benefit is if you lose power twice a year for an hour? What is that worth to you? It’s a very hard number to quantify, and that’s one of the challenges with microgrids because if you can quantify that really well it helps justify spending money on a microgrid.
The last kind of challenges are kind of regulatory. There’s a lot of interactions with the utility. There’s a lot of operational modes and sometimes very high penetrations of renewables, therefore there’s a lot of kind of back-and-forth with utilities to make sure that we’re figuring out kind of how all these systems work together and make sure the utility is on board with these. Next slide.
The next section of my talk is about designing the microgrid. If you go to the next slide, I wanted to kind of show how you kind of design the microgrid. There’s three pieces that come together to help researchers like myself look at a location and determine what kind of microgrid makes the most sense there. First is inputs, so looking at what is the goal. Is it resiliency? Is it cost savings? Looking at what is the cost of energy there, either fuel or utility?
We have to have a good idea of what needs to be served, so what does that load look like, what is the renewable energy potential, and how do those kind of coincide, and the next step is we kind of take all that data and pull it together in a techno economic model which basically looks at if I have an energy storage unit it does this, if I’ve got PV it does this, if I have wind it does this, and it tries to figure out what is the most economic, best, lowest cost over the course of 20 years.
PV as an example is very expensive up front but fairly cheap to run, so therefore it has a much different cost profile, and that’s kind of part of the techno economic analysis. The outcome of this is really to look at what is the mix that makes the most sense at this particular location and kind of how it’s gonna operate. If we go to the next slide, this gives an example of a particular site and some of the techno, economic, and load data that we’d get.
On the left, up left, the graph shows a very typical kind of commercial low profile. You see kind of five higher peaks during the week, two lower peaks kind of on the weekend, so that’s maybe a week’s worth of data and I would say very typical to what the load looks like. People start turning air conditioners on during the day, they turn their computers on, those kinds of things. They reduce their power usage at night.
The second piece for load data is what it looks like over the course of a year. That’s shown in the bottom left, and that’s looking at when does the load peak. In this particular example like a lot of facilities, the load is a lot higher in the summer ‘cause you have things like HVAC and other components turning on that you don’t have in the winter.
In terms of some of the analysis, there’s a fairly complicated graph on the right which is showing a couple different components. The first is what is being pulled from the utility is the lowest graph. It’s essentially the brown color. What this system is trying to do is manage what the system is pulling from the utility. This particular site has natural gas generators and an energy storage unit. It also has landfill gas as a renewable energy source and some PV.
What you can see is that the utility power that’s being pulled from the utility is being regulated by all these sources to keep it to never go above a specific amount. Part of the cost of electricity for a lot of sites is a demand charge. So, the most power that they pull they get charged for that. If they can avoid these fairly short peaks, they can really manage their cost and make it effective to have a lot of these systems.
Next slide. In terms of resilience, there are multiples layers that kind of come together as part of a microgrid. The top level of course is the utility and that’s kind of your primary source, typically where you’re pulling most of your power from. You can make it more reliable by adding multiple connection points, but it will have a certain amount of downtime associated with it.
Now, the microgrid is essentially one level below that and will provide power when your utility is having issues. If the utility goes down, the microgrid kind of takes over. There might be a short outage, and I’ll describe how that works in a little bit. There the amount of resilience it can provide is dependent on how good is your fuel sources, are there renewables that are offsetting some of your fuel so you can operate a little bit longer, and some other pieces.
The last line of defense typically are building generators or UPS systems. Those typically take over when the microgrid has gone down. In remote locations, you essentially only have kind of the bottom two layers, and they’re very interconnected and it makes a very resilient system overall.
Next slide. Some of the engineering considerations that go into the design of a microgrid, for the sources there’s a lot of different components that you need to figure out. If your source of power is gonna be generators, you need to determine not only how many kilowatts they are but how many of them you have. It can be sometimes more resilient to have, say, five one-megawatt generators than one five-megawatt generator. So, there’s a lot of tradeoffs kind of that way.
Renewables are another one. They can be kind of concentrated to an area or distributed across the grid. It has different implications. They have certain design lives on how long they’ll be able to provide their power. Energy storage is an enabler that’s becoming a lot more prevalent. I got a lot more information later about the benefits and complications that come with energy storage, but really it’s an enabler that allows a lot of really neat kind of components and systems to kind of work together.
They also have isolation devices. This really sectionalizes the grid. It provides backup paths sometimes. It’s the way that you isolate the microgrid from the larger grid. Protection is another big piece of the engineering design. This has to do with looking at how do you protect the system in case something happens on the system like a branch falls across the line, and it’s very different to protect it when it’s tied to the grid versus when it’s in a microgrid mode. The last kind of engineering component is interactions with the utility, and this is where an interconnection agreement usually comes into place and figuring out how to meet their requirements, whether that’s a minimum import or rate structure change based on the addition of these components.
Next slide. So, a bit of a busy slide. Wanted to kind of show one last consideration for kind of how the system is designed. This is one line of an electrical system. It’s a very typical way of kind of showing electrically how the components are connected, not only electrically but sometimes physically as well. You typically have one, although there might be more, point of common coupling.
This is essentially the link between where all the load is and your utility. You also have distribution busses which are essentially busses that are all at the same voltage that typically have connection devices to them. There are transformers which allow busses to operate at different voltages. Transmission is done typically at a much higher voltage than distribution, so the voltage keeps going down as you get closer to your loads.
And you kinda look at the figure on the right. The point of coupling for this particular system is kind of in the center. There’s a couple different distribution busses and then a lot of times where the load is situated are called feeders. You have multiple feeders coming out of the distribution bus, and those feed typically different sections of a facility. So, you might have a neighborhood being fed by one feeder. That’s kind of an idea of what the one line would look like.
Next slide. I wanna go through a couple of concepts of what the microgrids kind of how it operates and a few other pieces. As I mentioned before, there’s two main operational modes of microgrids. They can either be grid tied or they can be islanded. When you’re tied to a larger grid, the grid provides voltage, it provides frequency, and it’s very stable. It can absorb changes in renewables really easily, and you typically have much higher fault currents, which I’ll come back to a little bit later why that’s important.
In island mode, the frequency is determined by your sources, and therefore you have to have fairly – the sources that you put in a grid are the ones that are having to form the voltage and frequencies at the grid. The nice thing about the utility is the utility if you’re not producing enough power, they provide that extra power.
When you’re islanded, all the power for your grid, both real and reactive, have to be produced by the sources on the grid, and there’s nowhere else for it to come, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s a little bit weaker is that your sources are a lot smaller. You typically have more variations in voltage and frequency, and if there is a large change in renewables, it typically has a higher impact on an island. Next slide.
One of the transitions that happen is a transition from utility connected to islanded mode. This slide shows basically there’s two main ways of going from a utility connected mode to an islanded mode. The one on the left is called a closed transition. This is typically a planned sequence so you know it’s going to happen. Ideally your sources spin up. They start reducing what you’re pulling from the utility, so they start producing the power locally, and when it gets to zero that you’re pulling from the utility, you open up your device and now you’re islanded.
It’s very smooth, there’s no loss of power, and the timeframe can be fairly quick. An open transition is different. It’s typically unplanned, and the utility instantly goes out and typically the microgrid does as well. At this point, you spin up your generators, you reenergize everything, and you bring it up, and at that point your microgrid has power. It’s a short duration outage, anywhere from a few seconds to a couple minutes.
There are ways to avoid that short outage. Typically, they’re expensive and complex to implement and not typically done, and so typically the open transition is what happens when the utility goes out, and then all other transitions are closed. The only time you have a loss of power is when the utility goes down. Next slide.
To give you an example of how the system operates and kind of balances sources and loads when it’s in islanded mode, I kind of created this example just to show the difference between when you have just a generator and a PV versus when you have a generator, a PV, and a battery, and how kind of those two different systems operate.
The one on the left shows kind of a single day, and the gray is the generator, and the orange is the load. At night, basically the generator runs and provides all of the load. You can see during the day the blue line, the PV production starts coming up, and the generator goes down to a much lower level.
The generator can’t turn off in this scenario because PV is not capable of making its own voltage, and therefore it has to have a generator there to provide voltage, and therefore you don’t want the generator to run at no load. So, typically it’s going to curtail the PV and not allow it to produce too much.
This is different than the scenario on the right. In the scenario on the right where you add an energy storage unit, the nighttime looks the same, so the generator is supplying all of the power, but when the PV production starts going up and goes past what your load is, at that point you can actually turn the generator off. The energy storage unit can provide the voltage for the PV array to push against. Not only is the PV providing all of the power for the load, but its also charging your battery.
You can see the power for the battery storage actually goes negative because it’s being charged. So, it gets charged kind of in the middle of the day and then after the sun starts going down, the battery starts discharging. The generator stays off ‘cause it’s still not needed, and then eventually the battery is kind of discharged and the battery would transition over to the generator and the generator would run the rest of the night, just to kind of give you an example of what it looks like when it is running islanded.
Next slide. I wanted to kind of talk about components and what they look like. In a microgrid there’s typically a lot of different components that make up what’s in the microgrid. You end up with a lot of generation, energy storage, lines and switching devices. Most of these I’ve kind of already talked about. There’s also a lot of protection devices, so things like circuit breakers and reclosers and fuses.
There’s also sometimes power factor correction. Not only on the grid do you have real power which is what your loads are consuming, but you also have reactive power. Any time you transmit real power you also need to provide reactive power for the transmission and a lot of the components. Power factor correction is a way of assisting and making the transmission system a little bit more efficient. And then there’s a few examples of some simples that you might see on one lines and then on the right is more of a picture representation of what some of these components look like. Next slide.
Diving into sources a little bit more, most of these I’ve already mentioned. Fuel generators, canned grid form; that’s the technical term to basically say it can produce its own voltage and therefore doesn’t need another source to do that for it. Typically, diesel is a little bit more stable, although natural gas generators have lower emissions, so it depends on kind of what the end state is and what’s required.
They share load really easily between themselves because of the fairly well-developed technology. Wind and PV cannot grid form, so they have to have another source online to be able to generate voltage. Very variable but is curtailable. Even if it has the capability of producing a megawatt you can say “Don’t produce more than 500 kilowatts.”
Hydro is a little bit different. Sometimes it can grid form. It’s a lot less variable, so there are systems out there that rely heavily on hydro. Energy storage is a much different technology. It can also grid form. There are tons of different options in terms of how the energy is stored. Essentially it has two ratings to it.
There’s a kilowatt rating which affects how stable the system is. It allows it for the generators to turn off, and it allows for more renewables to be on the system. Where the kilowatt hour rating is a duration, so it’s how long it can operate. Typically, the main benefit for larger kilowatt hours is to reduce fuel usage. Next slide.
A little bit more on energy storage. The upper left graph is kind of why we’re focusing on storage. Storage has come down quite a bit in cost and is still continuing to come down in cost, which is an important driver as well as the operational modes. If you look at the use cases on the bottom left, those are expanding as well. They’re figuring out more and more what can energy storage do and how it can help not only the grid but also kind of these islanded situations.
They can provide instantaneous power like a UPS and switch back-and-forth really fast. However, it’s a lot different than a generator and it creates a couple of complications because of that. It has a much faster response time. It typically reacts and controls voltage and frequency much better. It produces lower fault currents. I forgot to mention this earlier.
The protection system relies on fault currents to detect when there’s a problem. If fault currents are high, they can react very quickly and identify that there’s an issue. When you’re connected to the grid, high currents make the protection system operate very well. When you have low current, typically it’s much harder to detect that there is a problem, and therefore the protection system typically has to be able to figure out if you’re in grid connected mode versus islanded mode, how much current to react to.
Another way that energy storage is different than a generator is they can absorb power, and they can be programmed to emulate generators. When you have a system that has a combination of energy storage and generators, it’s nice to be able to program the energy storage to operate like the generators so that they can share power better. And then a few other considerations.
Round trip efficiency is typically around 90 percent. This means that if you put one megawatt hour into a battery, you’re only gonna get .9 megawatt hours out of it. Operations can have a large impact on lifespan. The more you cycle it and the higher you charge and discharge it, the least amount of time it’s gonna last. If you charge it to 100 percent and discharge it to 0 percent and you do that ten times a day, the battery is probably not gonna last more than a couple years.
Whereas if you’re going between, say, 40 and 60 percent and you’re only doing that once a day, it could last 30 years. So, it makes a big impact on how it’s operating. They are significantly more complicated to control than generators, not only just the energy storage unit itself but the rest of the components on the microgrid. There are a lot of additional capabilities, but it definitely creates some challenges as well.
Typically, it’s made of two elements. There’s an invertor and whatever the storage mechanism is. Most of the storage mechanisms are DC. A lot of the flow batteries, things that aren’t spinning, are typically DC. The invertor is what’s used to convert the DC power into AC power and so it can connect to the grid.
Next slide. This is the last thing I wanted to go over, and I have kind of a summary slide. There’s different layers of controls that you typically see on a microgrid. They’re typically broken into three main categories. The top level is the tertiary control, very slow. Typically, it’s in minutes or hours. It’s all the interactions with the larger grid. It typically has to do all the time that you’re dealing with economics or weather, so very slow-moving kind of actions are determined by the tertiary controller.
The secondary controller is typically called the microgrid controller. This is typically medium speed, so seconds to minutes. It balances loads and sources to make sure that you always have enough sources to provide your loads. It’s updating set points, it’s going through sequences, and it’s kind of the overall controller. Below that is the primary control.
The primary control are typically embedded in all of the components, and these are items like generator controller or a programmable logic controller. There’s a lot of different components that kind of fit in this category. They’re very fast, so typically milliseconds to seconds. They typically have the primary goal of stabilizing voltage and frequency across the grid and providing fault protection, but they’re very quick and respond first. Then the microgrid control kind of updates it after something has happened, and then the tertiary control kind of guides the whole thing. Next slide.
That was what I wanted to go over. This is kinda just a summary of a lot of the components, and hopefully it was useful. Kinda went through from what a microgrid is, some of the benefits, how it’s designed, and what are some of the components in it. Hopefully this was useful to give you a little bit of background in terms of what a microgrid is, some of the components, and with that, I will pass it off back to James.
James: Thanks, Bob. Excellent presentation. A lot of good information there and great background on microgrids in general. A very challenging topic to cover briefly, but I appreciate that overview. Next, we’ll hear from Jana Ganion. Jana, you’re welcome to proceed as soon as your slides are up.
Actually, one moment. There are a couple of hands up that I’ve seen. If you’re looking to ask a question, we’ll take written questions. So, rather than raise your hand, click on the question mark icon and take a written question, and at the end of all the presentations we’ll answer those questions. With that, Jana, you’re free to proceed.
Jana: Terrific. Thank you, everyone. I just wanna do a quick sound check. Am I being heard alright?
James: Sounds great.
Jana: Great. Just really quickly, I wanna say that the Blue Lake Rancheria tribe serves on the Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy’s national working group. The Indian Country Energy and Infrastructure Working Group, which we fondly refer to as ICEIWG. We also serve on other energy, climate, and infrastructure advisory and technical committees at the state and national level.
For the work pairing climate and energy with resilience, the tribe has been recognized with FEMA’s whole community preparedness award as a climate action champion by the Department of Energy, and has also earned a 2019 green power leadership award from the EPA. I don’t say these things to brag, but I do say them because it is true that in developing our microgrid strategy, we are out there on the leading edge and are getting recognized for it. Next slide, please.
So, the Blue Lake Rancheria is located about five miles inland from the Pacific Coast in Northern California. We’re near the cities of Arcada and Eureka. The tribe is moving as fast as possible to a goal of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. We’re well on our way to hit that goal. We describe this region’s tenuous utility connections to the outside world as behind the redwood curtains. We’re famous for our redwoods, but we’re also rural and geographically a bit isolated out here.
This is of course a condition that many tribes share. For example, in our case we have one ten-inch natural gas pipeline, and just two 115 PV power lines serving the entire region. The power lines run through wildfire country, and all of our infrastructure sits in an area of very high earthquake and tsunami risk. Further, climate change is amplifying our historic threats and vulnerabilities in terms of sea level rise, droughts, warmer soils, higher temperatures, more volatile weather, and these are leading to recent disasters such as mega wildfires and also planned and unplanned power outages that are more frequent and now last for several days.
As a quick example, in October and November of this year we had two extended power outages that were preplanned to some degree and intended to prevent wildfire in a weather situation that was where the conditions were right for the electrical system causing wildfires. These outages lasted for many days and importantly impacted 30 counties in Northern California simultaneously, and I’m gonna talk a little bit more about how our microgrids performed in those events in a minute.
So, while historically utilities have been relatively reliable and stable here, certainly in Northern California and the places across the United States and also particularly in Alaska, many tribes still have never been connected to the grid, but where they are connected and where historical power has been of somewhat reliable quality, we’re seeing in our region recently that outages of a kind that I’ll talk about in a minute have really eroded the confidence in the larger grid, which has shifted the focus in conversation and development to more distributed generation, both segmentation of the grid and microgrids.
So, these climate impacts are not a surprise. These conditions have been studied and predicted for decades. However, they are severe, and the tribe has incorporated the fact and implemented strategic plans with climate smart solutions at their core. The photo on this page is a little blurry. I apologize for that.
At the center of it is about a 25-acre wildfire that blew up. It’s right across the street from the tribal territory. Thankfully, no one was injured in this event, but I just wanna reiterate that this is just a couple miles inland from the Pacific Coast in an area where we have never seen wildfires before.
Next slide, please. So, we also live on shaky ground here. It’s one of the riskiest earthquake regions in the United States in what’s called the triple junction of faults just offshore from us. This image depicts earthquakes of magnitude 3 and above over the last several decades, and again, I’ll just reiterate that our full natural gas pipeline runs through the area. Really, we’re not counting on natural gas being available in our planning.
Due to the location of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, the Pacific Coast can be simultaneously impacted by a single very large earthquake event, and if that happens, and it’s happened in the past and will happen again in the future, we just don’t know when. Our region will not be the first concern for responders in the case where Seattle and Portland and San Francisco and other major metropolitan areas are impacted at the same time. Next slide, please.
So, volatile weather here has always been something that we’ve dealt with, but it is amplified by these changing climate crisis conditions, and it increases our typical landslide profile. We have three arterial highways that serve our region, and it is pretty typical for all of them to be out of service simultaneously. These service disruptions and landslides can take days or weeks to remove, and this of course means that shipments to our region are often disrupted, food, other supplies, and of course for the purposes of this conversation, we can’t rely on shipments of gas and diesel for our backup generators. So, we are transitioning to solar and storage for our on-site generation needs as fast as possible. Next slide, please.
I wanna take a minute because we are receiving lots of inquiry about how the tribe plans and prioritizes its projects, particularly microgrids. Within our strategic planning, we take a lifeline sector approach to prioritizing projects, and we define those lifeline sectors as energy, water, food, transportation, and communications and IT which we bundle together. Of course, those sectors aren’t silos. They overlap in many ways and they are designed to improve community health and economic opportunity by keeping them robust, and that’s why we focus there.
So, we started with the energy lifeline sector because power supports of course all the other lifelines, and we understand the changing environment, the disruptions that the climate crisis is amplifying, and we actively focus on the need for resilience and continuity of operations. We are working hard to change the sort of business-as-usual thinking to ensure that our emergency preparedness and resilience project and infrastructure hardening are also ideally zero carbon solutions.
Our solutions to deal with climate issues should not make the underlying climate problem worse. The tribe has set a goal of zero net carbon emissions by 2030 in line with what the experts tell us is the timeline we have to meet. And importantly, these infrastructure investments are improving the tribe’s economy. The climate smart transition has created more jobs, more capacity and expertise within the tribal community, ancillary economic developments, and better social outcomes. So, by ensuring robust climate smart power, we are ensuring a robust community. Next slide, please.
Though I’m primarily gonna discuss microgrids today, I want to mention that energy efficiency is always our first step before constructing more complicated and costly systems. An example of the benefits of this are that though retail costs of electricity are high in places in California, it should also be noted that the state has some of the lowest average household energy bills in the country because of its deployment of energy efficiency. Tribal communities are lagging behind in energy efficiency, weatherization, and other of these approaches, so we are constantly working to make sure that energy efficiency is at the center of these kinds of energy sovereignty buildouts.
The Blue Lake Rancheria tribe has three microgrids currently, a community scale which has been in operation for two years and it’s noted by the solid orange square to the top right; a facility square microgrid that’s in the last stages of commissioning that should come online this month and that’s been noted in the dotted orange line to the bottom right. And then our campus scale which is in design which we hope to bring to fruition by Q1 of 2021.
These method or clustered microgrids provide us with on-site redundancy. If one microgrid fails for whatever reason, an equipment malfunction or other reasons, if it goes down, the others can uphold our government programs and economic enterprises pretty well. Next slide, please.
So, as Bob very expertly explained, microgrids are a popular term in energy circles, and I just really want to add to what his comprehensive overview stated, which is that we describe microgrids as mini electrical grids that can disconnected from the larger grid if they are connected to the larger grid and generate and use their own electricity for as long as needed. When we are operating separate from the grid as Bob said, it’s called islanded mode, and we operate in islanded mode when the larger grid is out like we have recently seen in her region, and then when we want to we can reconnect to the larger grid, and when we are connected of course it’s called grid-connected mode.
Grid connected mode is how our systems operate in business-as-usual non-emergency situations, and in business as usual, our microgrid helps us reduce the cost of electricity, use more and more green power, in our case solar photovoltaics paired with large-scale lithium ion battery storage. And just a note, because we have done successive microgrid projects, we have seen firsthand how solar PV and battery storage costs are quickly falling. The solar plus storage combination was by far the most cost-effective for us over its 20-year lifespan in terms of purchase price, warranties, O&M – operations and maintenance – and other considerations.
Another note on this, part of the reason why the cost of batteries in particular are plummeting is the state of California and other states sell incentives for battery storage purchases. In California there is a program called the self-generation incentive program, SGIP for short, which has directed hundreds of millions of dollars to battery-purchased rebates. The tribe participates in this program, and it’s part of the reason we’ve been able to scale up battery production rapidly to reduce the costs for individual entities.
Our microgrid was built by a public private partnership led by the tribe with engineering leadership from the shop’s energy research center at Humboldt State University. They’re located about five miles away from us. The project partnership also included several of the Department of Energy’s national labs, particularly Idaho National Lab and their hardware in the loop testing facility there. The project was funded by the tribe and an energy research and development grant from the State of California Energy Commission.
The microgrid powers a six-building campus including the tribal government offices, economic enterprises, and the infrastructure that serves those facilities. The brain of the system is the microgrid management control system, and it’s programmed to optimize all of the components for economics and to load shed, to shed electricity uses when we need to. So, if we know we’re going to have a multiple-day outage where we need to conserve and stretch our on-site power resources, we can shed more of our power needs.
The control system also allows us to enter in different electricity rates including time of use rates, and will automatically optimize the microgrid _____ system for economic and environmental benefits. The microgrid also helps take pressure off the larger regional grid by providing a larger portion of our power on site. It allows us to peak shave and reduce the volatility of imports from the regional grid as well.
And it has reduced cost and our carbon footprint. It saves the tribe about $200,000.00 a year on electricity costs and lowers greenhouse gasses by about a few hundred tons per year. As I said, we primarily rely on solar PV and battery storage. I can’t say enough good things about them. One of the best things of course is that our fuel is free every day. We don’t have to worry about deliveries of the sun arriving.
Next slide, please. So, this first microgrid worked so well we’re building the others. Our latest is the facility scale microgrid for our fuel station and convenience store. We call this solar plus. Now, when we think of gas stations with convenience stores, which many tribes have as a part of their economic enterprise portfolios, we seldom think of the lifeline sectors they can provide in emergencies, which is all of them.
Fuel station convenience stores can provide power, water, food, of course transportation and communication, but they can’t provide these services if they don’t have power. So, the facility microgrid seeks to create a replicable resilience package for these types of buildings to lower costs in business as usual and provide power in emergencies for as long as it’s needed. So, this microgrid is similar to the tribe’s larger one in that it has been constructed with the same types of partnerships including funding from the state of California and engineering from the _____ Energy Research Center.
It is also powered by solar PV and lithium ion battery storage, and I guess one of the things that we’ve seen, which I’m gonna talk about in just a second, is the emergency service’s role of these facilities is especially important in rural areas where a gas station, a convenience store complex, a grocery store, or a tribal government office may be the only community resource in a large rural area. Next slide, please.
So, I mentioned the outages that we were beset by in the last couple months. The outages in October are called public safety power shutoff. I wanna talk about how the microgrids worked in these real world situations which we did treat as emergencies. In a nutshell, they’re working well.
To combat wildfire risk that is present throughout the West and particularly in California, utilities in California here are shutting down the electrical grid in dry, hot, windy conditions that could result in electrical systems causing a wildfire. To give you a sense of scale, both October shutoffs impacted as I said over 30 counties at once with millions of people without power.
The length of the outages depending on where you were in that 30-county area were one to six days. Due to our microgrids, the tribe was able to stay up and running and provide emergency and other services to a significant portion of our region again which was entirely without power. So, a few highlights here.
We were able to ration fuels and serve thousands of individuals and dozens of emergency response agencies. We were able to set up an emergency command center with robust access to the internet and digital communications. We provided in our hotel critical medical housing for people who need power for medical equipment, and in the event we were credited by our local Health and Human Services department with saving four lives.
We also housed wildfire evacuees in the late October outage, because that outage did coincide with a major wildfire to the south of us. So, families who evacuated had to travel long distances because power was out over a wide swath of the state, and they were able to find refuge here at the rancheria. Our electric vehicle charging stations were an important resource. Humboldt County has a high relative adoption rate of EVs, electric vehicles, and in the outage, people came to Blue Lake Rancheria to charge vehicles.
We also opened community and business centers where people could come charge devices, do their work, access the internet, and of course some _____ food and other necessities. Local businesses continued to operate with this kind of access including our county paper record which came here to publish, and we worked with community clinics, medical clinics, to keep medicines refrigerated and stable, which is another need that we really need to think through in our tribal communities.
In addition, we kept all the tribe’s businesses functioning normally. So, microgrids are really proving the effectiveness of combining climate action and reliability, and when we do that, we provide equity. Resources for all with the ability to prioritize our responders and those most in need like our elders and our medically compromised people. Next slide, please.
So, just some reflections. Though our outages, the planned ones anyway, were authorized by the state and enacted by our regional utilities, they were thankfully relatively short this time around. The longer-term predictions are that these kinds of outages are gonna be part of our future for the next decade, and that they are projected to last from two to five days and possibly up to ten days depending on the damage sustained in any particular event.
So, here in the outages that we experienced there were some lessons learned. One is that at about the 30-hour mark, we saw communications falter in areas as cell towers and other communications infrastructure ran out of backup power. That’s one of the areas we need to fix, because digital communications are of course essential in emergencies.
We are grateful that our continuity of operation powered by our microgrids was widely appreciated, but of course these events are a crash course in the new climate force era we are in and the ways in which we need to take action to ride through these events. So, we’re working with others to rapidly scope whether we can do more regional segmentation of the electrical grid, which will be a combination of upgrades to existing infrastructure and even more new microgrids. Next slide, please.
And because of this increased focus on microgrids, we are receiving lots of inquiry from tribes and others across the country seeking to build these out, particularly with low carbon generation. Here are some considerations for getting started. I’ll talk about it mainly from Blue Lake Rancheria’s perspective, but there’s information here that people can follow up with as needed.
The Tribal Council has formally approved the microgrid strategy. It has dedicated staff to develop and operate these projects. The tribe decided to retain tribal ownership of all the infrastructure. Some of the ways that you can develop are of course through the tribe can develop internally, and/or it can partner with third-party entities to develop. In Blue Lake Rancheria’s case, we operate mainly at what we call the community or campus scale, facility scale, and residential scale.
So, most of the time it doesn’t make sense in terms of the capital cost of any particular project to enter into a third-party financing or O&M relationship. We have launched a tribal utility authority to manage the energy projects and infrastructure that we have built, and we’ve developed strategic partnerships that I’ve talked about. Really by far the most valuable has been with the local university, Humboldt State University. It allows us to develop capacities within the tribal community in concert with the local educational institution that is intrinsically devoted to knowledge transfer.
And as I’ve mentioned, the Shocks Energy Research Center is located at Humboldt University, and so that’s a very convenient way to access engineering expertise that over the course of developing microgrid projects has really become some of the leading-edge expertise in the country. We also work with a variety of public and private partners at all levels, and these partnerships have made our microgrid projects possible. Funding came from the tribe and from grants and incentives that I’ve mentioned. It’s always a puzzle to pull together financing, but it absolutely can be done.
The tribe supported these projects with matching funds and other injections of capital as needs arose, and of course they will arise in these kinds of projects. And the tribe took a patient payback approach, estimating about ten years of a simple payback timeframe for infrastructure projects. We’ve received technical assistance from the Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy, and that has been provided largely by National Lab experts and it’s been a great help.
And on the right side of the slide are some of the funding and programs we have accessed. It is by no means a complete list. In addition, depending on what states tribal lands are located in, there may be other state-level funding incentives that are available especially where tribal and state energy objectives are aligned. Next slide, please.
So, I sort of want to bring this to a close by talking about microgrids as solutions. They have proven themselves here to have stacked benefits, economic and community resilience, greenhouse gas reductions are chief among them. But microgrids also provide the opportunity to rethink electrical grid investment overall. As we shift from climate forcing energy systems in favor of climate smart solutions, we are increasingly electrifying our lives. Appliance, cars, heating and cooling, other needs. So, we will need at least as much or more power, and that will come from sources that will not further degrade the climate and cause these kinds of impacts.
So, thinking about how our microgrids have performed, we can value their benefits in new ways. It’s really a combination of routine grid upgrades that can be shifted from traditional transmission lines for example to microgrids. This allows for segmentation and more sophisticated management of the grid to enable benefits for everybody, especially tribal communities. And how we value and pay for these systems includes the business-as-usual value of normal business operation but also how these systems function in an emergency to increase abilities to take care of the public, our members, and to provide benefits to larger regions.
We are also considering the operation and management of microgrids and how best to do that. They’re not, as Bob’s presentation illustrated, they’re not simple. Even as we build capacity within tribal communities to manage this infrastructure, to get microgrids built fast and all over the place, we may want to engage with regional utilities and other partners that likely already have that expertise to get the job done but with a knowledge transfer mechanism built in ideally.
We are working on how to transfer the knowledge and technical assistance for microgrids so that we enable more tribes and others to build microgrids and also avoid costly pitfalls. We’re working to create what we refer to as microgrid centers of excellence to serve essentially as a one-stop shop for microgrid development. This would include a starting place for planning and firmly centering the tribal community needs at the center of design and feasibility.
So, as we go, we obviously want to avoid inappropriate technology. We want to increase standardization so these things are easier to build and connect with a larger grid. We want to lower capital costs and we want to lower operation and maintenance burdens. Next slide, please.
Just in closing, I think we see that this is an era of unparalleled focus on the nexus of climate energy and resilience and developing of coordinated strategy to transition to a climate smart society. Tribes are clearly leading the way. Many have already built microgrids, and many have microgrids in development. The private sector is joining because the economics of transitioning to zero emission energy sources are aligning very well with their business objectives and consumer preference.
The goal is to power everything we do with electricity and to generate that electricity from climate healing sources. We need bold, clear actions to clean up the energy sector and use that clean energy to power transportation and other lifeline sectors that we’ve talked about. The good news is we’re already seeing success, and we look forward to much more as quickly as possible, preferably. We will have a question and answer session at the end of the presentations, but if there are other questions we don’t get to today, please feel free to email me at the address here. Thank you so, so much for your kind attention.
James: Thanks, Jana. Excellent presentation as always. We really appreciate you sharing your insights on your microgrid and the successes it’s had. Our next presenter is Dave Messier. Dave, you can start in just one moment, but I did wanna mention we are running just a bit behind schedule, so with our last two presentations if we can work to stay at about 20 minutes we’ll have time for questions. We certainly do have questions coming in. Just keep that in mind, I’d appreciate it. Dave, go ahead.
Dave: No problem. Thank you, sir. First off, I wanted to just start by acknowledging that Jana is a really hard act to follow and just saying congratulations to Blue Lake. I remember hearing Jana present at the end of September about some of the issues they were expecting and to hear this presentation and the lives that were saved and all the benefits that have come from their microgrid. It’s just super impressive and I wanted to commend Blue Lake Rancheria really quickly.
Anyway, I’ll move on. Our project is sustainable solar energy for Hughes Village Council. It’s located in the community of Hughes, Alaska. This is a rough map of Alaska, and this is where Hughes is. I work with Tanana Chiefs Conference. We represent 37 federally recognized tribes over an area roughly the size of Texas with fewer miles of road than Rhode Island. If you turned on all of our microgrids across the region, it would be roughly the load of a normal-sized hospital.
Here in Fairbanks we have Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. I estimate about 10 megs is probably their peak, and that would be our max load if you turned on all of our rural generators in the 40 or so rural communities that we’ve got, so very spread out range of microgrids across a sub-Arctic region of the state that historically many communities have had to fly in fuel or rely on barged-in fuel.
So, for Hughes, they had contacted me a number of years ago about what they could do to move their community away from diesel. They’re currently flying in only for fuel, and we started looking at what the vision for the community of Hughes was. They have some great leaders in this community. I work with a number of communities, and the range in terms of capacity across my communities is really all over the place. Hughes is definitely kind of a shining star in terms of the leadership that they have in that community and their ability to move from community plan to actionable steps and getting projects completed.
So, you can see a list of a few of the projects that they’ve completed just in the last few years. Not super sexy. This is a community of about 90 people located on the Kaikuk River roughly 200 miles from Fairbanks, 800 river miles from Nananau, the closest port, and so very isolated. Just south of the Arctic Circle but pretty cold, obviously, and you can tell from the list this is not a casino-owning tribe in the lower 48 with a significant amount of business opportunity. This is a group of 90 or so people who have been in this community for thousands of years, generations, and are trying to survive in the 21st century.
Next slide. I’m sure there are folks on the call from communities across the country and tribes across the country, and every community has a different source of electricity. I’m talking today from Fairbanks. We’re relying on a mix of coal, naphtha, diesel, and natural gas, and we’ve got some wind power and solar in the mix, probably not much solar today. Across the country there are a lot of natural gas generators, coal generators, etc.
So, in the community of Hughes, this is the Hughes Village power plant. There are four diesel generators in there, and that is where 100 percent of the electricity consumed in the community of Hughes comes from, this building right here. You can see the national average for electricity is right around $0.11 a kilowatt hour; in Hughes it’s $0.71 a kilowatt hour.
Next slide. The challenge in Hughes that we were faced with was how do we get from here to here? The plane on the left I’ll stress is a DC6. You might not recognize it if you don’t live up in Fairbanks. We have the Everett’s Air Fuel Company which operates the largest fleet of DC4 and DC6 aircraft I think probably in the world. All of them are from the 50s and 60s ‘cause I think production of these aircraft ended in the early 60s, but they were flown during the Korean War and they have proved to be an economical source of transporting fuel from our hub in Fairbanks out to a number of communities across the region.
And so, when you think about the supply chain of your community, Jana had mentioned the challenges with fuel trucks and gas lines in her area, and I’m sure many of you are similarly constrained in remote areas. The community of Hughes is very constrained in their mind because that’s where all of their fuel comes from is those planes, and if they have some sort of issue with their runway or what have you, they’ve got a very limited supply of diesel that they can rely on to keep the lights on.
Electricity in the community really powers everything. It is their clinic, their water plants, their school, their runway lights, etc. So, it is incredibly important especially when we get temperatures down to -70, -60 during the cold parts of the year. Next slide.
The challenge that we often come up against is folks saying, “Hold on there. Alaska? You guys don’t have any sun up in Alaska. Why are you implementing solar PV?” So, here is a map of the solar resource in Alaska, and you can see that compared with the lower 48. I think that’s Spain over on the right. Then you can see the country of Germany on the right side of the screen.
If you take the time to look at the solar radiance values on the bottom, you can see that the interior of Alaska, Fairbanks and the surrounding communities, actually have a better solar resource than the country of Germany. Germany I believe still holds the record of having the largest amount of solar PV installed per capita, and that’s partially because of the incentives that they’ve got over there which I think are driven by some of their energy security challenges and trying to reduce their dependence on imported natural gas from Russia.
So, we have a fairly similar situation with all of our communities. If something happens in the Middle East, you have energy costs for your school, for your water plant, for your tribal business, for everything increase, and you have zero control over it. So, the solar PV project in Hughes is really to attempt to mitigate that risk of having no control over your fuel supply. Next slide.
When folks ask why we’re doing solar when we don’t have much of a solar resource, I always come back to the DC4s and the DC6s that we are dependent on for fuel. We’ve looked at wind as a resource on our communities, and unfortunately wind is very site specific and so many of our communities even that do have a wind resource, it’s located five miles away from the community.
Transmission costs up in rural Alaska between $500,000.00 and $1 million a mile the transmission cost to bring the wind resource or other renewable asset into the community is very challenging and very cost prohibitive. With solar PV, we have a fairly equal amount of solar that hits the ground in the community versus five miles away, so we have more flexibility when it comes to the location. Next slide.
When Hughes wanted to begin their process of reducing their dependence on imported diesel, the Department of Energy, we were very fortunate and Leslie Kobodes came up. She was a contractor with the DOE and she ran kind of an energy vision session with the community, and they came out with a renewable portfolio standard.
I would stress that this is something that any tribal community can come together on and to try to guide tribal operations and the future of the tribe’s energy sources we found in Hughes and some of our other communities that we implemented this in, that it kinda provides a goal and a direction. As leadership changes, as councilmembers change, we can kind of come back to this renewable portfolio standard that the tribe put out and point to it as a goal that we’re all headed towards. Next slide.
This is a look at the power plant in the community of Hughes. This is where 100 percent of their electricity comes from. Those are the two operators on either side of the young ladies up there who are assisting with the remote diesel maintenance plan, Gilbert and Sean. Those are two of the most important folks in the community of Hughes because they keep those older diesel generators running and providing power when it’s 40 below and when it’s 40 above. Without those two guys, the community is in a much more challenging energy security situation. Next slide.
The project goals for our solar PV array were three-fold, but most importantly was to increase tribal energy security and resiliency, and then we also, what TCC does is one of our functions is we’re able to consolidate some of the resources and share those with communities across our region and across the state. We’re not trying to come up with a one-off solar PV diesel hybrid system.
We are trying to come up with a model that can be utilized in other communities, and I’m proud to say that even with the brief successes or the brief time we’ve had with the solar PV being up, we’ve had a number of communities, I would say half a dozen approaches, and say, “Hey, how can we do in our community what’s being done in Hughes?” So, that’s one of the functions that TCC provides being able to share the information that we’ve gained and help other communities implement this.
Finally, implement a financial model that allows solar PV to work with the power cost equalization which is a residential subsidy that the state of Alaska has for individual residences that use less than 500 kilowatt hours a month. Trying to make sure that the renewable energy that we put on doesn’t I guess sacrifice or compromise any of the – it doesn’t have the impact of increasing a small residence’s electric bills. Next slide.
When we started the process up in Hughes, they are a fairly small community, only 90 people. I would say the radius around the power house which is there as building number 16 to the edge of the community is only about a quarter of a mile, so fairly small community geographically, and when it was originally electrified just back in the 70s I believe, it was even smaller. It’s grown a bit since then.
They implemented a single-phase distribution and generation system which means that there was only one phase across the community and the generators were set up as single phase generators. As the community has grown, that’s had some limitations. When we started this project, we thought that we could overcome those with power electronics and just by being creative when we sourced an invertor for the project. We soon realized that we couldn’t overcome that challenge.
If we wanted to get a commercially viable three-phase invertor then we had to upgrade to a three-phase distribution and generation system. So, that was kind of step one which we weren’t anticipating, and we were able to accomplish that within a year. We finished that up in 2018, I guess it was a year and a half, and rewired the school, brought three-phase down the main lines, rewired the generator ends, and so we had three-phase power. Next slide.
Another thing that we preach at TCC is energy efficiency first. The cheapest kilowatt hour is the one that you don’t use. We had some funding from another source and went through the community and did an LED lighting upgrade with the local contractor from Houslia just down the river, and they went through every home and community building in Hughes and changed out all of the lights from incandescent and fluorescent to LED. Next slide.
That reduced our overall demand in the community. Then we started planning our solar PV array, and this is what we started with. This is a lot just to the south of the power plant. Next slide. Had some folks up in Hughes clear it. They’re exceptionally good at clearing brush up in Hughes. Everybody uses firewood to heat their homes, and they had a brush crew that swept through this in about a week and a half or so and mowed it down. It’s been cleared even more than that. Next slide.
And then in the summer/fall of 2018, so last year, we shipped up solar PV modules and found a local contractor again from Houslia and were able to get the solar PV array up using 100 percent local labor, which is something that we were incredibly proud of, and also another in our mind benefit over other technologies such as wind where you really need to have outside entities come in.
For technology like solar, we had guys show up with a ratchet set. If you get a really competent foreman you can get a project knocked out. This took him about three or four weeks to put together at Camp _____. This is a photo of our contractor Edwin Bifelt. He was really instrumental in helping us get to 100 percent local hire and get this system up for the cost that we were able to.
It’s much easier if you’re flexible and willing to work locally with folks in the community, and Edwin took it upon himself to attend a Solar Energy International training I think in early 2018 and was really hungry to get this project, and so he was a logical go-to vendor and he did great. We went up and helped him put up the first array. Three weeks later we had all of the array set up, 120kw worth of PV panels which was the largest solar PV array in rural Alaska at the time. Next slide.
In summer of 2019, just this last summer, we wired it. We’ve kind of been going a little bit slow because of budgetary challenges and trying to determine where we were gonna get the funding, but we have since solved that issue and the batteries are going to be shipped up in spring 2020, so in just a few months. In I think it was August 2019 we had Edwin go back up and wire the PV panels. Really proud to hit the number of $2.10 a watt for a system this remote out in the middle of rural Alaska.
We’re proud of the number and like to underscore that because it’s something that’s attainable even with our logistical challenges, and in a remote setting up here in Alaska. It really shows that folks in the community can do a lot of the work. Obviously, that saves a ton of money when you’re talking about a contractor coming in from let’s say Fairbanks or Anchorage out to a rural community, they’ve got to make a decent amount to make sure that it’s worth it and deal with all of the risks. And so, typically they add zeroes on the end of their estimates to deal with those risks.
When we talk about logistics and getting the product out to the community of Hughes, this is part of the path that it took. We got our racking from a company in Richfield Corners. It went by truck to Seattle and then actually by barge up to Anchorage, trucked up to Tanana, and then took another 800-mile barge running down the Tanana and Yukon Rivers and up the Kaikuk River.
So, had to plan ahead quite a ways for that and just be sure we hit all of our deadlines and got the product into the community, ‘cause we have one barge that goes up per year now. They just started that in 2018. It's the first time in over a decade that they’ve had barge service up there, but we were fortunate. Otherwise we probably would’ve had an increased cost because air freight is significantly more expensive.
And so, you can see what the installed cost with shipping was. It was about $2.10 a watt. Had we just taken out the shipping or had a reduced shipping it would’ve been closer to $1.84 a watt. So, up here in Alaska, shipping is a huge component of our install cost. Next slide.
The project is gonna be putting on this 120kw of solar PV onto a microgrid that has I would say a peak load of around 120kw. Most of the time it’s base loaded in the 60 to 70kw range in the summer, and that probably goes up to 80 to 90 kw during the winter with peaks up to 120 when they have potlatches or Thanksgiving Day peaks or what have you.
So, the goal here is to show you just a brief overview of how the system is gonna be tied into the main bus bar in the power plant and work seamlessly with the grid, and that’s really important. You remember from the slides that were shown by previous presenters the challenges that a lot of entities in the lower 48 are dealing with is how to switch from the main utility provider to the microgrid and turn their microgrid on.
We don’t really have that challenge if you will. We have plenty of other challenges, but we are on a microgrid and so we’re incorporating solar PV in the batteries right into the power plant. Next slide.
We have been I would say benefiting from some of the changes in the battery market most of which are due to the mandates that have been put in place down in California. They have been driving the cost of batteries lower since we started the project, and we could’ve gotten the batteries set up in 2019. Our vendors said, “Well, if you wait a year you can double the capacity of the battery and probably only add about 10 percent just in terms of cost based on where battery prices are going.
So, we made the determination to wait and we’re now looking at an e-mesh system from ABB. We had previously been looking at a FAF product and the cost of ABB system is just coming down as they are working on really getting into the Alaska market. Next slide.
This is an example from the community of Northway. This was my first battery system. It was on a small building down in the community of Northway, and you can see we just did a 9kw grid tied solar PV installation on this in summer 2018, and then we put a battery on it in 2019, this last summer. This is representative of what we’re trying to do in Hughes. You can see the light green in the graph is what was previously going back into the grid, that lower line, that red line, and the dark blue, and then purple. That is what the base load in this community building down in Northway is.
We put a 9kw solar PV system. The community does not have net metering. All of the light green was previously going back onto the grid.
We put a small 10kwh battery system in there, and now instead of just getting the benefit of solar PV during that shaded blue area and so it would come on about 6:00 AM during the summer and really trail off about 8:00 PM during the summer, we’re getting the benefits from that solar PV array all throughout the day until about 2:00 AM in the morning, and there’s just that little area of red that we’ve got to buy from the energy providers, the local utility. This is kind of representative of what we’re trying to do in Hughes once we turn the system on summer 2020. Next slide.
This is a graph model from our friends at NREL. They were able to assist us showing what that’s going to look like. The blue is PV to load. The red is still diesel to load, when we’ll be needing to turn the diesels on, but when you are 100 percent reliant on diesel, this might look like a good start, and that’s how we feel. It’s not perfect, but we’re not trying to get to perfection, we’re trying to get to a better situation and less reliance on imported diesel, and this PV system definitely helps us do that. Next slide.
Really quick, the challenges that we often deal with, with small remote Alaskan microgrids are budgetary in nature, and the community of Hughes, if they were to take on this project, they had some budgetary challenges, we started with about $750,000.00 budget. Because we switched technologies from lead acid batteries to lithium ion it increased the cost. Next slide.
If they were to take out a loan for this project, you can see that they would still get them about a 20 percent cost increase even with the reductions in fuel usage. It definitely has benefits, but the DOE funding has been super important, and the support from the Office of Indian Energy, because without any kind of additional support, we would have to finance this through a loan, and that would have the impact of increasing everybody’s electric rates, essentially.
So, this funding is super important because we’re trying to get to a sustainable model where we can really drive the cost down and get by in other projects with just loan financing. Unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet. Next slide.
This is just a short list of our project challenges. We are tackling them and trying to knock them off the list one-by-one and hope to have our microgrid solar PV diesel battery system up and running by summer of 2020. Next slide. Just wanted to say thank-you to the Department of Energy and the Office of Indian Energy for their support, and if anybody has any questions, my contact information is there. Thank you so much.
James: Thanks, Dave. Excellent presentation and thank you for representing the challenges there in rural Alaska and how you’re overcoming them with solar and battery storage. That’s really cool. Our final presentation is from Dan Malcolm. He’s gonna be focusing on kind of a system that’s been operating for a while now, a simpler system in many regards but one that has a track record, so we wanted to make sure to represent that on this webinar.
Dan, looks like we have about 24 minutes left in the webinar as scheduled, so if you can continue to try to keep the presentation under 20 minutes, we would have time for questions. I appreciate your efforts to do that. Go ahead, Dan.
Dan: Thank you very much. Again, Dan Malcolm, _____ manager for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. This is our tribal government office. Next slide.
This is the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. It’s a checkerboard reservation as you can see on the map, about 30,000 acres. It overlaps three cities, and unincorporated Riverside County. There’s some flat areas of urban and then mountainous areas to the southwest where the project I’m gonna talk about is located. Next slide.
So, the Indian Canyons Trading Post, basically that’s a facility that’s two miles located from the grid, 700 square feet. It’s kind of a staging area for people to go hike in the Indian Canyons. There’s souvenirs there. There’s also convenience items, drinks, food and whatnot. It’s open seven days a week during peak season which is now down here, and only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the summers when it’s very hot and we don’t get too many visitors.
Before 2008-2009 it was powered by a 15-kilowatt propane generator that’s shown in the bottom right there. That generator was getting old at the time. It was breaking down constantly, thousands of dollars in maintenance expenses. We were having reliability problems. We were having to bring out a backup diesel generator on a trailer, park it outside the building, so something had to be done.
We had to prior grants that looked at options that evaluated the building, kind of looked at what the options were for that building and the actual load of that building. Next slide. So, as a result of all that, we looked at actually adding a PV system to the trading post and replace the continuously operating propane generator with just a backup system.
It was actually completed in two phases kind of due to funding. The first phase was late 2008 was to add a 7.5-kilowatt diesel generator with one to two days’ worth of battery storage, and you can see the batteries there on the right and the generator on the bottom left. This was based on a load of 34 kilowatts to building with a peak load of 8 kilowatts and have an average load of 4 kilowatts when the business opened.
So that kind of driven the size of the solar system that was added later which is 8.25-kilowatt system, 30 panels, and the system is fully automated. I’ll get into the next slide here on what the particulars and the challenges and lessons learned as we were doing this, ‘cause this again was ten years ago. We did have a 24/7 365 operation requirement for that building.
Basically, there’s perishable items in there. We need power 24/7. It’s open to visitors, so it’s a commercial business, so it generates revenue, so we had the need of a system that was completely reliable. It’s down there on the site where the trading post is at. It actually gets usually pretty good sunlight all day long, however it’s against a mountain on the westside, so about 3:00 in the afternoon the building is covered in shade, so that kind of limits how much solar exposure we get, and the building is open until 5:00.
With respect to systems sizing, what we didn’t do originally when we first started this project and kind of happened as we were putting in the panels and the batteries is we didn’t look at efficiency. We should have done that up front. We designed a system to do 34 kilowatt hours when we could’ve probably done less.
The good news is that we replaced all the refrigerators, the microwave, and everything else. We actually lowered the power consumption of that building which actually made the batteries last, our storage last longer, and made our use of the generator almost nonexistent, really unless we have extended periods of cloud or rain which doesn’t happen too often down here. At the time, ten years ago, there was limited options.
Basically, there wasn’t much out there as far as we could see, and we wanted to be hands-free, basically, so the people operating the trading post didn’t have to worry about it. We have _____ maintenance crew personnel that can do this, but they’re busy doing other things, so this is meant to operate on itself. We incorporated built-in redundancies, so either the system could run off the batteries with the solar or it could run the generators, and what you see in the upper left there is we had a switch so we could isolate the components of the system.
Let’s say the generator wasn’t working; we could isolate it while we work on it. Let’s say the solar and the batteries aren’t working. We could disconnect them from the system and run on the backup generator. Or if everything fails, which is what we were relying on before. There’s a power cord there at the bottom. We could run a cord out and hook up to the diesel generator. So, basically, no matter what we could always have power to the building.
There were some troubleshooting difficulties we had in the beginning of the system for the first couple of months. It was somewhat difficult to get off the ground and there were some compatibility issues which I’ll cover in the next slide. Shown here on the wall is during installation we went with Zantrax charge controller invertors. Those are the two rectangle boxes on the left.
The cool thing about those at the time, there’s probably better technology now, is they could instantly switch from taking power from the batteries which are being charged through the solar, to invert that to a 120 and power the building. When the batteries get low, it can instantly tell the generator to turn on and then switch over to generator power and then use the generator power to power the building and also charge the batteries. That happens instantaneously and you don’t notice anything going on inside the building.
That’s always worked great ever since the get-go. There was never a problem with that. Third box over on the right is breakers behind that, but the two little boxes on the far right are the charge controllers. You can see they’re all Zantrax. They were compatible with the system. However, those two controllers never really charged the batteries. Basically, the solar panels go into those two charge controllers and they charged the batteries. The batteries didn’t power the invertors.
We weren’t getting good charging on the batteries. If anybody is familiar, there’s three different stages, bolt, absorb, and float. It never would bring the batteries up to full charge, so we had to do something, and that was pretty much in the first couple months this was going on.
Next slide. So, before we went to Outback, we actually tried micro invertors on each panel. That didn’t work either. That was brand new back then, I think 2009, so they couldn’t get that to work either. Basically, we found a company, Outback, and we installed three charge controllers, not that three were better than two, but they’re smaller in size, so we needed three of them. Since we added those Outback charge controllers, and basically, they take the power from the solar and charge the batteries, the batteries were getting topped off every day. The system was working perfectly. Haven’t had an issue since with the solar, so that’s awesome. Basically, ten years straight, no issues.
Next slide. Unique here is how the building works. We wanted remote monitoring to figure out how the system was working. Since we actually have generation and power consumption, we had to have two different monitors, one actually monitoring what the building was using and one monitoring what the solar system is generating at the time. To want to see if there’s issues with one or the other.
That was working good for several years. Recently it’s not been working, and the main issue with that is in the far right corner, the solar connection for that is GPRMS, which I think is – sorry, the cell connection for that was GPRMS service, which everything is moved to, I forget what the new terms are called, but we’re all on different technology now. I think the cell companies are phasing that out.
We’ve upgraded now to basically a cell modem that gives us connection. We’re just now getting that operating again. Technology changes as things go on. That’s not been a big issue, it just helps to know how the system is working. Next slide.
This is kind of the end slide. As I said, I’m gonna go quick here, but ours is a fairly straightforward project. We were trying to eliminate one, a very expensive propane and diesel generator-ran system with battery backup and solar. This shows the graph here is the red would be if we – we had some improvements we had to do back in 2008 like replacing appliances and redoing the roof, so we had a sunk cost of $58,000.00 no matter what we were doing.
The total cost of the solar system was about $135,000.00 with all the other stuff included. We were able to get a grant to bring that cost down to $75,000.00. What this graph shows in the first two years of operation, we actually broke even. Since then we’ve been actually saving money, and it kind of shows there we expect to save with the grant funding about $217,000.00 over the 20 years of operation in the system. So, there’s a huge cost savings on it.
You see on the two green and blue graphs there’s two kind of spikes in cost, and the only really operating cost we’ve had, and we had it at the eight-year mark, was to replace the batteries. We went in the past, because it’s all there really was, with lead acid batteries. We went with 16 six-volt lead acid batteries, and they were showing on one of the slides there. They’re basically running two sets of eight that generate a 48-volt system, so it’s a 48-volt system, and then that gets converted into 120 that we need.
Basically, we got eight to nine years out of the first batteries, and that’s actually outstanding for the dessert down here. It gets to temperatures up to 115’s and 120 in the summer, and lead acid batteries in cars don’t last long. You usually get about three years is it. The important thing is there we have an actual small cooler that helps cool that room that houses all that equipment, so it keeps the temp down there.
Also, as I discussed in previous slides, we do not let the batteries get below 60 percent, usually typically 70 percent, before we kick the generator on. Luckily, we have enough power where that rarely happens. So, that’s another thing is the batteries get topped off to full and we usually don’t let them get down lower than that, which I think has done really good on the cost. Basically, those lead acid batteries cost us $18,000.00 to replace, so another eight, nine years we’ll have another cost of that.
Probably down the road someday we might look at a different technology, but right now we’d have to change a lot. We’d have to change the charge controllers and all that if we wanna go to lithium, so it’s not really worth it to us at this time to explore anything like that for this system. Next slide.
Actually, that’s it. It’s a fairly simple small system. It’s worked. It’s saved a lot of money. One thing that was really nice besides it does reduce carbon emissions and all that, it really improved the visitor experience in the canyons down there, which you can find the website if you’re curious.
You didn’t realize in the background there was always a generator humming along, and once that went away, you hear the birds and all the other wildlife around there. You didn’t realize the benefit of that until it happened, and it’s been a benefit that we didn’t expect. That’s it. That’s my presentation. Thank you very much.
James: Thanks, Dan. Excellent and interesting presentation. We’re gonna jump to questions right now, and thanks, Dan for moving along so we have time for that. I’m just gonna go through them. First off, Dan, while your presentation is fresh, have you seen the client in production from your solar modules? Is it notable on your system over the ten years? Can you comment on that?
Dan: I don’t know right now if it has. As I mentioned, we’ve had some issues with our monitoring system. The problem is _____ manual went away and got bought by somebody else, so we had that problem migrating that, and then recently the cell reception. So, right now we’re having an IT issue with that. I haven’t noticed anything. Another way to look at that is if the generator hasn’t been coming on.
Still, we’re good there, so that’s another kind of data point for us. Any power we don’t use gets stored in the batteries, and then once that’s done, because the system is a little large and we’ve reduced our energy consumption, we likely just lose a lot of energy produced by the panels every day. It’s just lost to heat. They get dissipated as heat since we don’t have a grid to send it to or a much larger battery storage system.
James: Great. Thanks. A question here, “Do microgrids need a person operating the grid or can they operate autonomously?” Some individuals have already addressed that. Perhaps Jana, maybe you can talk about your microgrid and the personnel needs.
Jana: Hi, everyone. Our system doesn’t need to be monitored 24/7, but it is a great question because I think that the capacity that the tribe and/or the tribe partners have to monitor a system will drive how complex your microgrid is. So, we have ours, the settings and some of the design, such that we don’t have to monitor it 24/7. The idea is that we check in on it on a daily basis, but we don’t have to have a person sitting there watching screens all the time.
James: Thanks, Jana. Certainly, the Hughes microgrid will have the diesel power plant operators and Agua Caliente one is autonomous, so it just depends on the situation for sure. Next question here, “Can a microgrid system be designed to be scalable to expand into a utility scale system?” I guess that’s kind of a question on how big can they go and still call them microgrid and that sort of thing. Bob, maybe you can jump in on that one, scalability of microgrids.
Robert: Sure. There’s been a lot of interest and research lately in the idea of scalability. One of the things that they’re looking at is can you make a fairly small system like maybe just one for a building that has a little bit of smarts to it, maybe it’s got some energy storage and PV, and the building next to it has one and the building next to that has one, and can you kind of pull all those together to make a bigger smarter system.
There’s a lot of ideas and concepts right now. For the most part I would say they are getting bigger and bigger. We’re seeing bigger and bigger facilities that are able to island, and the systems are getting bigger. I think at some point it will become a little bit gray between the grid and a microgrid, because there’s a point at which it's probably more of a grid than a microgrid, but part of the future as well is the idea of network microgrids and having a lot of microgrids that are working together.
James: Great. Thanks, Bob. Just burning through the questions here, two for Jana. Do you have net metering and what manufacturer was the MIM? What was used?
Jana: So, we do not have net metering on our microgrids because we use all of the – in business as usual when we’re gray connected, we actually use all of the power on site. The generation portion is not large enough to really export. The technology that we’ve used and we now have three systems is the Tesla power pack systems. We have as shown in the slides, basically one megawatt, two-kilowatt hour system as a part of our community scale microgrid, and then we have 169-kilowatt hour system as a part of our facility scale microgrid.
James: Great. Thanks, Jana. A couple questions here, folks down in Alaska. Are any Alaskan communities considering using electricity generated by nuclear powered microreactors? Obviously, you may not be an expert on this, Dave, but what’s your awareness of that?
Dave: Not in my experience. There’s a lot of challenges that come from nuclear reactors. The kind of myth of the small-scale suitcase nuclear reactor has been talked about for the last, oh, I don’t know, probably 50-60 years and it’s always ten years away. There’s so many restrictions dealing with nuclear in this country that I don’t personally think that it’s practical and there’s not many communities that are interested in it.
There was some interest from the community of Galina for a while. They had a military base in their community at that point, but other than that, nothing really in rural communities, though there is kind of an uptick of interest lately as we talk about the benefits of nuclear with regards to reductions in carbon output, but that’s in larger areas in the rail belt in Alaska, not rural communities.
Jana: I’d like to just add to Dave’s comments and underscore them. Humboldt Bay about 20 miles away from the tribe was the site of the first privately owned nuclear power plant. It’s small. It was small in scale. It’s not operating now, but now it is a nuclear waste repository. It is located of course where most of these are right on the bay. It is in the direct path of sea level rise, and this waste repository is something that there is no plan for removing the waste.
There is only a couple more decades in the current plan to store it before we’re gonna need to come up with a new plan, so we just absolutely don’t think that nuclear on a smaller scale makes sense. It creates significant burdens for communities. This one cost $33 million to build in the 60s. It’s cost to date $1.02 billion to deal with. It’s just not cost-effective and it’s not reliable and it doesn’t improve resilience.
James: Thanks, Jana for your insights there on the local scene. Another question, and this is a general question, so maybe we’ll start with Bob on it if you have thoughts, Bob. Is there any specific regulatory issues that are preventing future microgrid planning and deployment? Maybe what are the regulatory challenges?
Robert: There’s always regulatory challenges, and it depends on the state that you’re in. It depends on the utility that you’re connected to. I would say most of them can be worked around. In any microgrid project, there’s a lot of communication with the utility or co-op or whatever the power in a connection comes from to figure out what are the limitations that you can do or can’t do.
It might come in the form of a minimum amount of power that you have to assume at all times. Sometimes you can’t do that metering. You’re not allowed to export. Sometimes it’s run times on the generators if there’s emission issues, but there’s always regulatory challenges and they’re very different depending on the location and the utility.
James: Thanks, Bob. A follow-on question there specific to Jana, it says, “The CPUC has their prohibition on microgrids in section 216 and only public utilities can own them. Are you familiar with that?” They’re in California, and how do you get around that if it’s applicable?
Jana: That’s a good question. I actually don’t have an answer for it. We obviously own and operate a microgrid, so we may in fact be out of sync with section 216. I’ll have to look that up. The bottom line is, this kind of hearkens back to the last question too, is that whether microgrids exist on the utility side or behind the meter on an individual customer side, I think we need to get a lot more sophisticated really quickly about gelling microgrids into a larger grid ecosystem for all the benefits that both systems can achieve if that gets in closer collaboration.
I’ll give you an example. With our community microgrid we can export a little bit. We can only export up to 100 kilowatts, and there’s no actual technological reason for that. The transmission distribution grid has plenty of capacity to handle more of an export. So, we need to work through I think with the regulators and the utilities and tribes how do we best develop these microgrid systems and remove some of these regulatory structures that didn’t contemplate microgrids at the start but need to now, and we should come at it through a lens of how can we really upgrade the entire grid in that work.
James: Thanks, Jana. We are out of time for our schedule, but just one last question out there. Those of you that asked questions and didn’t get them answered, I’m gonna try to forward them onto the applicable presenters and hopefully they’ll have some time to get back to you at some point. The Hughes Project; how do you deal with seasonality of solar there?
Dave: That was for me, James, the seasonality of solar PV in Hughes? So, I mean, it’s a challenge because we have decent solar resource on an annual basis, but obviously right now about a week or so away from the winter solstice, we’re not getting anything for solar PV. That’s another concern that a lot of people come up with, and as I stressed, solar PV is not the perfect solution, but it’s the best available solution after we reviewed other technologies. We’re hoping to see a 20 to 25 percent reduction in the annual fuel use in the community of Hughes, and obviously most of that is going to come in the spring and summer, and we’re not gonna see a significant change in the winter and fall months.
That said, we are hoping that with the implementation of the battery the community will be able to run their smaller generator more of the time during the fall and the summer because the battery will act as a buffer, so we’ll be able to change the settings on when generators kick on. Now you’re not just limited. If you’re running a base of 80kw and you’ve got a 90kw generator running, the spinning reserve might not be significant enough so you might have to put on 150kw. That’s under the current scenario.
But now that we’ve got a 337kwh battery that’s able to put out up to 250kw, we’ve got tons of spinning reserve in that battery. So, although the solar PV won’t be beneficial throughout the year, it will be beneficial in the spring and summer and the battery will provide benefitted fuel savings 365 days of the year.
James: Thanks, Dave. With that, we’ll wrap up questions. The final slide we have here is just a reminder for our 2020 series. We’re firming up the details on that now and we’ll share those particulars on our Indian Energy website and also send an email out to the lists serve once the details are available. If you need to sign up for that list serve, you can find the signup on the main webpage for the Office of Indian Energy.
With that, thanks to all of our panelists for their contributions to today’s webinar. Excellent material. To our audience, thank you for your continued interest and attendance in the webinar series and individual webinars, and we look forward to you joining us on future webinars. This concludes today’s webinar. Thank you and have a good day.
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