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San Diego To Install Green Energy ‘Microgrids’ At Eight Buildings

A lifeguard watches over the pool at the Memorial Rec Center, which will soon...

Photo by Andrew Bowen

Above: A lifeguard watches over the pool at the Memorial Rec Center, which will soon be powered by a renewable energy "microgrid," July 6, 2021.

San Diego is outfitting eight city buildings, including rec centers, police and fire stations, with solar panels and giant batteries — so-called "microgrids" — in an effort to increase power reliability in the face of climate change.

The microgrids, approved by the San Diego City Council last week, will save taxpayers $6 million in energy costs over 25 years, according to a city analysis. Construction is expected to begin in May 2022.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen

Lindsey Hawes, the city's municipal energy program manager, said the solar panels can power the buildings' lights, computers, heating and air conditioning. And, in the event of a blackout, a building’s power switches over to the battery system.

"We know that with climate change, disruptions to our energy supply are increasing," Hawes said. "Whether it be a public safety power shutoff or a wildfire or some other disaster, the question isn't if, it's when. And so we want to be prepared."

The city has a goal of transitioning all its buildings — everything from offices to libraries to water treatment plants — to zero carbon emissions by 2035. That will require building more renewable energy microgrids, replacing natural gas heating systems with all-electric power and retrofitting buildings to be more energy-efficient.

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Reported by Andrew Bowen

Shell New Energies, a subsidiary of the Dutch multinational corporation, will pay for the installation and maintenance of the eight microgrids and charge the city for the electricity it uses at rates cheaper than SDG&E, according to the city. Fremont-based Gridscape will actually build and operate the systems.

Alok Singhania, a partner at Gridscape, said the microgrid model has become increasingly attractive for cities and schools, as well as grocery stores and other businesses. The existing system of far-flung power plants connected via long distribution lines will only grow more unstable amid extreme weather events, and as more electric vehicles place additional stress on the grid, he said.

"We need a solution that's more distributed in nature so that there's no single point of failure," Singhania said. "Microgrids provide you with that. And we literally need millions of these to make up the grid so that it becomes stable and meets everybody's needs."

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Photo of Andrew Bowen

Andrew Bowen
Metro Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover local government — a broad beat that includes housing, homelessness and infrastructure. I'm especially interested in the intersections of land use, transportation and climate change.

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