Distributed Energy Resources

Palo Alto Utilities to explore potential of microgrids

Software company VMware and the City of Palo Alto Utilities in California will explore the potential for a collaborative relationship between a public power utility managing the electric distribution grid and a private company generating electricity on-site combined with storage for access to power when the grid goes down.

VMware on Nov. 1 announced its intent to explore developing a microgrid at its headquarters campus in Palo Alto with the City of Palo Alto that will serve as a testbed for the company and the city to explore the potential of microgrids to advance resiliency at the corporate and community level.

Palo Alto and VMware will also explore a partnership to use this microgrid to augment the community’s emergency services by providing a charging site for the city’s emergency command vehicles and an emergency communications node that can be used during major emergencies that cause extended power outages and fuel shortages.

VMware noted that a microgrid is a system of generators, batteries, and electric loads that can be operated in a controlled, coordinated way to provide resiliency. Microgrids can operate while connected to the main power grid or can power critical electric loads when off-grid.

VMware and the city will explore new technologies on this microgrid, working with VMware technologists and other academic researchers to advance the controls and software that define how a smart microgrid works and how it integrates with the broader utility network.

VMware’s goal is to expand this initial “proof of concept” into a campus-level community microgrid that incorporates renewable power, battery storage and additional controls in a network that can operate cooperatively with the City of Palo Alto Utilities infrastructure.

As envisioned, the microgrid would also be isolated from the larger power grid to operate independently if the larger grid fails, providing a level of backup power for critical systems.

VMware said that there are a range of environmental, economic, and resilience benefits to this project, including additional local solar generation, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and locally-supplied back up power that are in line with Palo Alto’s sustainability and energy objectives.

By sharing data and lessons learned through this effort, VMware and the City of Palo Alto will also enable the microgrid to serve as a platform to help understand the impacts of community microgrids on Palo Alto’s existing energy infrastructure.

Other public power utility microgrid projects

Other public power utilities involved in microgrid projects include Washington State-based Snohomish County PUD and Florida-based public power utility Gainesville Regional Utilities.

Attendees at the American Public Power Association’s 2017 Public Power Forward Summit heard from an official with Washington State-based Snohomish County PUD about the PUD’s plans to develop a microgrid that will have a disaster recovery focus and an executive with Gainesville Regional Utilities, who offered details on a microgrid the utility has set up in partnership with a local health care provider.

In early 2017, it was disclosed that the New York Power Authority would be a partner on several microgrid projects that received funding announced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.