Powering Strong Communities

Columbus, Ohio, Unveils First Solar-Powered Microgrid

The City of Columbus, Ohio’s Department of Public Utilities recently put into operation its first-ever solar-powered microgrid.

The purpose of the microgrid, which is located at the Tussing Water Booster Station, is to serve as a backup power source to the main power grid.

If grid power is lost or disrupted, the microgrid will enter “island mode” and utilize the onsite solar and battery energy storage system to operate one of the three booster pumps at the station, ensuring residents continue to receive safe and clean drinking water, the city noted in a Nov. 3 news release.

The microgrid consists of two main components -- a 100-kilowatt solar panel system and the battery energy storage system. The solar energy can be stored in the batteries or converted for use in island mode to power the pump station. The battery system has a power rating of 442 kW.

The water towers can supply drinking water for 1-2 days without electricity, but the microgrid is designed to extend its ability to supply water during an outage for a minimum of six hours with the potential to extend it for many days using energy supplied by the solar panels.

“This microgrid will support residents continuing to receive safe, clean drinking water during times of climate crisis and emergency situations,” said Kristen Atha, director of the Department of Public Utilities.

In an interview with Public Power Current, Phil Schmidt, project manager for the Division of Water Tussing Water Booster Station Solar Microgrid, detailed why the water booster station was chosen for the project’s location.

He noted that available space on the site was a key driver for the microgrid’s site selection. “About a decade ago we built a second water tower and as part of that process we acquired some additional land,” Schmidt said. “We had some green space available, and I think that was just the big driver for this project…we needed the footprint to be able to put these solar panels on the property, so this site was a good candidate.”

The city’s climate action plan commits Columbus to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. One of the actions under the plan aims to evaluate microgrids and storage projects, with targets to complete a prioritization study by 2025 and implement five microgrid pilot projects by 2030. 

Erin Beck, Assistant Director in the city’s Sustainable Columbus office, told Public Power Current that the climate action plan “is really meant to be our roadmap” for how the city will achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 “and how we’re imparting equity and environmental justice to our residents here in Columbus.”

Beck noted that “another key goal in our climate action plan is we’re looking for at least a 45 percent reduction in emissions by 2030.” The plan includes five sections, 13 strategies and 32 distinct actions.

The microgrid project has been in development since 2019 and was supported through a funding initiative and partnership with investor-owned AEP Ohio.

When asked about where things stand with planning for the other microgrid pilot projects, Beck said, “From the wider community perspective, the goal is to do five by 2030 and that is across our entire community, so that could be either with” the city’s Division of Power or working again with AEP Ohio “to identify some potential other sites.”

She noted that “one other thing we’re really looking to do throughout the community is establish a network of resiliency hubs and so we’re really trying to tie some of the microgrid work into that resiliency hub work as well.”

The climate action plan notes that “every neighborhood is unique, and as such the needs of its members vary. The development of localized resilience hubs can respond to its community depending on the situation. Whether it is natural disasters or utility outages, a trusted community member will know how to reach and assist its most vulnerable citizens.”