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Microgrid focuses on "reliability, survivability and resiliency"

From the October 26, 2015 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published October 23, 2015

By Paul Ciampoli
News Director


The significant amount of research conducted at the University of California San Diego's campus means that "reliability, survivability and resiliency" are the ever-present priorities for a microgrid located on the 1,200-acre campus, said Byron Washom, director of strategic energy initiatives at the University of California San Diego, on October 13.

Washom hosted a tour of the microgrid for attendees of the Energy Storage North America 2015 conference, which was held in San Diego from October 13-15.

Washom said that "we self-generate about 85% of all of our own electricity on an annual basis. We do it at a cost that is about half the price of importing from the local grid" at a greenhouse gas emissions level of about 25% below the California energy mix. Energy storage is the "newest aspect of our microgrid," he said.

The microgrid was started in 1962. "Our twelve hundred acre campus was acquired from the U.S. Marine Corps when they vacated Camp Matthews in 1960," he noted. "The first building under the University of California ownership was actually our central utility plant. So that's how long we've been building this microgrid, starting out as a state generation plant, and then we've gradually cobbled together all the different aspects of our microgrid."

The University of California San Diego official said that "we're very much into reliability, survivability and resiliency," pointing to the large amount of research the university conducts on an annual basis. He said that "we are the fifth largest publicly funded research institution in the United States and the largest among the UC campuses."

A 2.8-megawatt fuel cell located on the microgrid, which utilizes waste methane.

Therefore, "with this amount of research that's going on, it's imperative that we keep the lights on and should we have an event then we need to be able to survive that event and should we survive that event, we need to be resilient."

Washom said that "we approach this somewhat like a military base with respect to reliability, survivability and resiliency."

He provided a detailed breakdown of UC San Diego's research program in advanced energy, which includes a mix of funded programs and funding targets. "We divide our program between advanced generation of low or no carbon," the transportation sector, energy storage, "big data" and quantification of values of the benefit streams.

"Right now, as you well know, energy storage is undervalued" and there are over 27 different value streams to energy storage, of which only four are currently monetized, Washom said. "So if we want energy storage to happen, guess what? We need to make sure you folks get paid for the services and the products that you're delivering," he told tour participants.

The campus also includes "legacy infrastructure," Washom said. "Whatever's installed today is a part of legacy infrastructure tomorrow." 

He added, "we have a saying here at UCSD –- we roll out the red carpet and we shampoo it every day because a lot of our different projects are from companies looking to take advantage of us being a deregulated entity, having a relationship with UL, having a microgrid we can plug and play in, and so a lot of our projects here come a hundred percent cost shared."

An energy storage system located on the UC San Diego campus.

Testing advanced energy storage systems

The University of California San Diego official said that the campus was one of two locations selected by the Department of Energy's ARPA-E research arm nationwide for testing advanced energy storage systems.

"They will be tested in the lab first and if they meet" certain specifications, "they will then graduate out into the field and be deployed on the microgrid and operated continuously until the demonstration is over," he said.

Another storage-related program on the campus is tied to California's self-generation incentive program. The self-generation incentive program is for early commercial energy storage systems, "to which the state ratepayers pay approximately 60% of the value of the project," while the site host, developers or manufacturers pay for the remaining 40%, the University of California San Diego official said. "We have a number of projects going in with" the self-generation incentive program.

"We can go big and we can go small," he said. "The smallest system that we have on campus" is an 8 kW Sunverge system at a university aquarium. "So we like the full gamut of size ranges because with a 42 megawatt load, one can fully expect that you have a wide variety of different opportunities" for energy storage.

When asked how long the campus can run without power, Washom said that energy storage "is not the single solution to resiliency. We have approximately thirty megawatts in gas turbines, which we self-generate on a daily basis. At the same time, I have about sixty five emergency diesel gen sets" that are equal to 38 megawatts. "So I have as much backup power in diesel gen sets as I do in gas turbines. The diesel gen sets service the individual building loads, but they don't serve the microgrid."

Washom said that "we are migrating to more energy storage for those types of systems that cannot take a momentary outage." An example, he said, would be the university's San Diego Supercomputer Center. Also, he said that "we have two hospitals on campus. So we have some hyper-critical loads. Not only do we have the diesel gen sets, but we also have the battery storage backup for that circuit."

The University of California San Diego official reiterated the point that "you have to think of a military base mentality. We have belt and suspenders back up redundancy and then while we're satisfying the immediate building loads, if we have an outage then we are conducting a black start to bring our gas turbines back up in an island mode. Ideally, we will be able to detect when that outage is coming."

The microgrid also includes a 2.8 megawatt directed biogas fuel cell, which Washom noted is the largest commercially available fuel cell in the world. It utilizes waste methane from a wastewater treatment plant that is located around 17 miles from the campus. "That fuel cell is actually a renewable fueled system because it's utilizing waste methane," he noted.  

"We are also interested" in pursuing another fuel cell at 2.8 megawatts at an off-campus site, he added.

Byron Washom, director of strategic energy initiatives at UC San Diego, talks about the university’s microgrid during a tour on October 13, 2015.

Load shedding procedures detailed

Meanwhile, Washom described the routine "by which we shed our load in order to make the transition to a preemptive islanding more possible."

He said "we have a sequence that we start out with our non-critical loads and we can shed them. An example would be – from our control system in our operating room, we can control four thousand thermostats with three clicks of the mouse. We can take off our electric chillers with two clicks of a mouse and they're a large load."

He added, "we're very bullish on thermal energy storage. We have two thermal energy storage systems. One is 3.8 million gallons. The other one is 1.2 million gallons. So we're able to disconnect, if you will, the electric chillers by the fact we have the thermal storage for our system."

He offered a straightforward message "for the people who advocate automatic islanding and reconnect – you've never run a microgrid. The moment you take the human element out of that decision, you expose not only the outside grid to danger, but also the inside."

Washom said that people who want a seamless "island" to disconnect and reconnect "are operating out of naivete."

He said that "as microgrids proliferate, there will be those people who either through a syncrophasor or through a telephone call, will say, I'm pulling the ripcord, I'm bailing out and what have you done to the macrogrid? You've…compounded the problems of the macrogrid."

Washom said "we're a great believer in human judgment -- and this automatic connect and disconnect from the grid based upon signals – we would never put ourselves in that precarious of a position."

Vehicle-to-grid demonstration

Meanwhile, during the tour, Niki De Leon, distributed generation program manager for NRG EVgo, offered details about a vehicle-to-grid demonstration on campus.  NRG EVgo is part of NRG Energy.

"The primary purpose of this vehicle-to-grid demonstration is to say that if it's going to work anywhere, it's probably going to work in California," De Leon told tour participants. "This is where the cars are, this is where the legislation's being formed, this is where we want to" be part of an information gathering, data production process to determine if "this is a good idea and exactly how are we going to do it."

De Leon said that "this project is kicking off now. We're going to be here" for two and a half to three years, working under the California Public Utilities Commission, and in tandem with the California Independent System Operator and investor-owned utility San Diego Gas & Electric.

"We're trying to get as much feedback and stakeholder involvement with this process as possible and, of course, UCSD is a fantastic partner for this project as well, providing us with…places to put our demonstration sites," the NRG EVgo official said.

De Leon also provided details on a separate NRG demonstration project involving stationary storage plus electric charging. "What we're doing is we are primarily looking at how do we reduce the costs of DC charging? Because especially in the state of California" and in the service territory of San Diego Gas & Electric "demand charges and operation charges are real," she said. "So it's a challenge to figure out how do we mitigate those operational charges while maintaining a reasonable cost for our customers?"   

The project also includes an approximately 15 kW solar array that is feeding "right into our distribution panel" and then flowing into the microgrid.

De Leon noted that "we have more than 450 charging stations across the United States with the EVgo network," and California is where "we have most of our charging stations."

To learn more about microgrids, check out the September-October 2015 issue of Public Power magazine and an exclusive story published in the September 14, 2015 issue of Public Power Weekly that focused on a microgrid being built on a California Native American reservation.


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