Volkmar Kunerth, CEO Accentec Technologies and IoT Business Consultants
In 2017, California was devastated by wildfires, which created significant challenges for the energy infrastructure, leading to widespread power outages that disrupted daily life and threatened critical services. Amidst this crisis, a 16-acre winery and organic farm in Sonoma County emerged as a beacon of energy resilience. The farm's microgrid system, known as the Winery Microgrid, successfully provided an uninterrupted power supply, ensuring the farm's operations and safety, and underscored the importance of distributed energy resources (DERs) and microgrids in mitigating grid threats caused by extreme weather events.
The Winery Microgrid is a behind-the-meter, nested microgrid designed primarily to provide resiliency during grid failures. Before the project, the winery had installed 330 kW of solar on the main bus. An additional 160 kW of solar and 120 kW / 420 kW of battery storage were installed as part of the project. The battery system comprises four 30 kW Ideal Power inverters and three Lithium Ion Phosphate battery strings.
The farm had long been committed to sustainable farming practices and recognized the need for a solution to the increasing frequency of weather-induced power outages. The owner installed solar panels, battery storage, and generators to achieve energy independence and strengthen resilience, creating the microgrid. This microgrid, combined with a decentralized control system, allowed the farm to generate, store, and distribute clean and reliable electricity while remaining grid-connected or islanding and disconnecting.
During the 2017 California wildfire power outages, despite increasing smoke and ash, the farm's microgrid demonstrated its resilience by sustaining operations independently for ten days, monitored remotely via cell phone. The success of the microgrid was attributed to several key factors:
Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Generation: The farm's extensive solar panel array continued to harness sunlight and generate clean electricity throughout the day, reducing dependency on the grid.
Battery Storage: The robust battery storage system collected excess solar energy during the day, utilized during the night and periods of low solar generation, ensuring a consistent power supply even when the grid was down.
Advanced Controls and Monitoring: The sophisticated decentralized control system optimized energy usage and efficiently managed the farm's requirements. When the utility disrupted power, the microgrid automatically disconnected (a process called islanding mode) for a seamless transition to self-sufficient energy generation.
The 2017 wildfires, sparked by a downed power line, burned over 161,000 acres across Sonoma and Napa Counties, damaging or destroying around 8,200 structures. Utility companies triggered precautionary power shutdowns to prevent additional fire risks and protect communities. The farm faced the challenge of maintaining essential operations, including irrigation, refrigeration, and critical infrastructure support.
The success of the farm's microgrid during the 2017 wildfires highlighted the importance of energy resilience in disaster-prone areas and led to several key lessons:
Integrated Microgrid Planning: Careful consideration of system components, load requirements, and the control system is crucial for seamless operation during grid outages.
Continuous System Monitoring and Maintenance: Regular monitoring, testing, and maintenance of microgrid components are essential for optimal performance and reliability.
Collaboration with Utility Companies: Collaborative relationships with utility providers enhance mutual benefits during emergencies, enabling resource sharing and optimizing grid connectivity.
Community Engagement: Extending support to the local community during crises fosters goodwill and strengthens community resilience.
This modular, flexible, and decentralized microgrid control and optimization platform simplifies and standardizes the connection and optimization of DERs, converting them into intelligent, interacting agents. This allows owners and operators to build self-managing microgrids and fleets from the ground up and quickly scale them as needs evolve, ensuring peace of mind with simple deployments, durable systems, predictable performances, and enhanced returns on investment.
In conclusion, the farm's microgrid system proved its worth during the 2017 wildfire power outages by providing reliable and resilient clean energy to sustain critical operations. This not only benefited the farm's operations but also the community at large. As weather-induced power outages become more urgent, the farm demonstrates the significance of microgrid control and optimization technology in ensuring energy independence and resilience.
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