Californian utility awarded $5m grant for solar microgrid expansion

A utility that services 3.4 million customers in southern California has been granted $5 million to expand the Borrego Springs microgrid and enable it to use the 26 MW of solar PV energy generated at the nearby Borrego Solar facility.

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) has been awarded the funds by the Californian Energy Commission (CEC) and will not only expand the microgrid to service all of the Borrego Springs area, but will also invest in more clean power.

The campaign is expected to make the Borrego Springs microgrid one of the largest in the country able to operate solely on renewable energy.

Currently, the microgrid uses local power generation, energy storage and automated switching to create a resilient local grid. It is connected to the centralized energy grid and is able to disconnect and function independently in the face of emergencies or power outages. It has previously proven useful at keeping the lights on in times of power cuts.

The microgrid’s expansion will see the 26 MW Borrego Solar facility – owned by NRG Energy – brought into the fold, with solar power feeding the microgrid’s large batteries to ensure a steady, on-demand supply of clean power all day and all night. If the batteries run empty, the grid can instantly switch back to traditional onsite generation, and SDG&E has confirmed that it will integrate new monitoring software to ensure a seamless transition and consistency.

Expansion is penciled in for mid-2016, by which time SDG&E hopes the microgrid will have a greater scope and will be able to serve more than the current 1,000 households in its current catchment area. The aim is to deliver reliable, clean solar energy to the 2,800 metered customers living in Borrego Springs.

"This funding will create a true renewable energy microgrid, one that not only bolsters local electric reliability but does so by using the cleanest resources available," said SDG&E’s SVP for power supply, James P. Avery. "This project combines our core priorities of enhancing reliability, promoting innovation and connecting to more clean energy, and we greatly appreciate the CEC’s support in making this happen."