Microgrid subsidy could give Kern a leg up on the energy curve | News

For all its mass and diversity, one thing that Kern County’s energy industry will likely need much more of in the coming years is resilience, not just to protect against wildfire-related power outages, but also to cover the daily gaps between supply and demand for renewable electricity. .

Massive energy storage projects proposed locally would fill the large-scale need. Even if they are built, however, the researchers say it is particularly important to also install smaller-scale solar and battery systems that can independently power a business or even a neighborhood in a way that increases resilience. local and profitability.

Last week, hopes rose that Kern will soon become a specialist in these technologies – microgrids, as they are called – thanks to a federal grant awarded last week to the city of Bakersfield in partnership with the Kern Community College District. .

Researchers from the US Department of Energy will provide technical assistance for the implementation, design and operation of systems that generate, store and direct energy for use on independent grids of various sizes. Agricultural and industrial applications are envisioned as part of the effort.

Those involved say the federal grant, along with planned county-level follow-on work, is likely to raise Kern’s profile as a hub for conventional and renewable energy innovation.

A continued focus on micro-grants is also expected to lead to more good jobs and a more diverse county economy, benefiting local consumers and industry.

Bakersfield Economic and Community Development Manager Paul Saldaña said microgrids offer solutions for residents as well as industry. Because it’s a growing sector, there’s a chance to advance the technology locally, he said, adding that local students might be able to enter at ground level.

“We hope that through our partnerships with the Department of Energy and the Community College District and Cal State Bakersfield and others, we can help nurture this industry and really be a testing ground, if you will. to learn how microgrids and this technology can really help save energy and power the community,” Saldaña said.

Kern County also received a technical assistance grant from the Department of Energy. His work will focus on carbon capture and sequestration – capturing greenhouse gases and burying them deep underground indefinitely. CCS is a developing technology that has recently been proposed for large-scale local deployment.

Recent years have seen technical advances and large investments in micro-grids that generate electricity primarily using photovoltaic solar panels. They store energy in batteries connected to computer controls designed to maximize the efficiency of energy delivery.

The first commercial-scale microgrid to come to public attention in Kern was built at a cost of $12 million at a 1,100-employee small potato plant in Arvin.

Owner Tasteful Selections has hired Salinas-based Concentric Power Inc. to install a 5 megawatt solar, national gas and battery system that is expected to reduce the company’s electric bill by approximately 40%, while still turning on lights and refrigerators when the power goes out.

Mojave Air and Space Port is working on plans for a microgrid that it says will save its tenants money on their electric bills and allow them to continue working if outside electricity is cut.

CEO and Managing Director Todd Lindner told an energy webinar hosted by Bakersfield College on Tuesday, the day Bakersfield’s federal grant was announced, that the Air and Spaceport recently purchased 67 acres north of the facility for the placement of a solar panel that will serve the microgrid.

At the same virtual event, California Energy Commission Vice Chairman Siva Gunda said the state will need to rapidly increase investment in building energy storage and microgrids if California is to reach its goal of zero. net carbon emissions by 2045. He noted the agency has already distributed $136 million for 45 different microgrid projects across the state.

Microgrids will also become more important as wildfires disrupt electricity supply, as happened for two days in August 2020, Gunda said, when the loss of nearly 4,000 megawatts of transmission electricity caused power outages.

The systems come in different sizes and configurations, and different potential ownership structures, Gunda noted, adding that it might be possible to power the microgrids with biogas from local biodigesters and sewage treatment plants.

A priority identified by Bakersfield and the University District will be the equitable sharing of microgrid benefits. KCCD Chancellor Sonya Christian said the systems will be rolled out across the region, especially in low-income, energy-intensive communities.

As part of this, local leaders of the effort will work with industry leaders to deepen district curricula and, she said, recruit underrepresented and tenured workers.

Executive Director Camila Chavez of the Dolores Huerta Foundation said via email that when she was invited by the University District to participate in the project, “we saw it as an opportunity to have real community engagement in conversations that will have a guiding impact on disadvantaged communities.”

“We want to be at the table and work alongside them and with the Department of Energy to ensure equitable access to new energy technologies,” Chavez wrote. “We also want to be an intermediary for communities who need to understand these technologies and their impact on our lives.”

Kern’s Community Action Partnership wrote a letter of support for the city’s micro-grant application because the organization helps people become energy independent, spokesperson James Burger said.

Although CAPK does not work with microgrid technology, it helps county residents with utility costs and weatherization projects, and so in this way, Burger said microgrids are “right up our alley”. The organization also supports technology as an economic development priority, he added.

“We know Kern County is going through an energy transition, and we want to do our best to support people through this transition because we need to follow a path that protects those who are economically weaker,” he said. “These are our people.”

Dave Teasdale, executive director of economic and workforce development programs at KCCD, said construction jobs would likely come from the focus on microgrids, but not to the exclusion of works. computer related.

“We think there’s an opportunity for cross-training and scaling people who can work in the build to actually be able to work on the control parts of it, maybe learning a new competence,” he said.

Teasdale also expects the work to attract manufacturing and consulting firms. He said the county has an advantage because of its real-world testing environment, and that could lead to an entrepreneurial ecosystem that would benefit from the university district’s existing relationships with Colorado’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National. Laboratory in the bay. Region.

The plan is to bring in additional money and expertise, he said, and learn from companies that have experience with microgrids.

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