Humboldt State University starts construction on solar microgrid at Redwood Coast Airport
Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid (RCAM) community partners announced construction activity on Wednesday, July 7 for what will be California’s first 100% renewable multi-customer microgrid in California.
The Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid was designed and developed by the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University. Located at the Humboldt County Regional Airport, it will be owned by the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and will operate on PG&E-owned power lines. This cross-agency collaboration is the first of its kind in California.
RCAM will provide energy resilience for the Humboldt County Regional Airport, including emergency and medical flights, as well as the neighboring US Coast Guard Air Station. The Sector Humboldt Bay Air Station conducts search and rescue missions for 250 miles of remote, rugged coastline, and the team has saved 32 lives in the past year.
This innovative project is funded by a $5 million grant from the California Energy Commission’s EPIC Program — which is investing in science and technology research to accelerate the transformation of the electricity sector to meet the state’s energy and climate goals — and a $6.6 million loan from the USDA. The project’s design team has developed technological innovations and new partnership models to enable microgrid opportunities for communities across the state.
Resilient, Renewable and Reproducible
The microgrid’s solar panels will generate enough electricity each year to power the equivalent of 500 homes on the north coast. During power outages, emergencies and shutdowns, RCAM will typically be able to operate and operate independently for at least two weeks. Under the worst solar conditions (e.g. a prolonged winter storm), the microgrid can still provide backup power for the airport and coast guard for up to 24 hours.
RCAM will be the first microgrid to participate in the state’s wholesale electricity market – which will not only ensure that solar power is deployed when it is most useful, but also help pay for the cost of the microgrid system itself . For the past year, the Schatz Center has worked closely with PG&E to write a technical guide for communities looking to build similar microgrid systems in California.
“We know how much our customers and communities need reliable energy, and microgrids play a key role in PG&E’s ongoing efforts to strengthen our electrical system and improve the resilience of the local power grid in Northern and Central California. The Redwood Coast Airport Renewable Energy Microgrid is a unique, collaborative effort on which PG&E plans to model future multi-customer microgrids developed through our recently launched Community Microgrid Enablement Program. We look forward to working with our customers and community stakeholders to identify, design and build custom resilience solutions that meet local needs for long-term electrical reliability,” said Ron Richardson, VP of the North Coast Region for PG&E.
Building on regional expertise in microgrids
In 2017, the Schatz Center launched its first grid-connected microgrid — a campus-wide, low-carbon system for the Blue Lake Rancheria, co-developed with multiple partners. In 2019, they added a second demonstrator at the Rancheria to examine the capacity of small buildings such as gas stations and convenience stores to support neighborhood resilience through solar energy + storage.
The Schatz Center, the Blue Lake Rancheria and the Redwood Coast Energy Authority are currently investigating how energy demand within an interconnected microgrid system can intelligently respond to the needs of the primary power grid.
“The Redwood Coast Energy Authority aims to track the airport project with a network of community microgrids and renewable backup power systems that can help manage disruptions to the nation’s energy supply,” said Matthew Marshall, executive director of RCEA.
The Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid will be fully operational later this year.
News item from Humboldt State University