Solar-powered remote grid will help California utility customers stay powered up during fire season

The first operational remote grid for California’s largest investor-owned utility will be made up of an integrated solar, battery, and generator system. If it works, the plan will be to roll out several hundred more across the state.

Microgrid provider BoxPower announced this week that it is designing and installing a standalone power system in Briceburg, California to help mitigate fire risk in the area.

The remote grid will support Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in its wildfire mitigation and energy resilience efforts in the face of intensifying fire risk across the state. Slated for completion in April, the integrated solar, battery, and generator system will replace traditional power distribution lines once servicing the unincorporated community.

The Backstory

In October 2019, the Briceburg Fire burned 5,563 acres in Mariposa County, damaging electrical distribution lines and interrupting PG&E service to the community. Since then, PG&E has provided temporary diesel generation to meet Briceburg’s power needs.

Rather than rebuild or repair its damaged power lines in Briceburg, PG&E began working with BoxPower to build a remote grid system. In addition to reducing wildfire risk, on-site power improves energy resilience: Briceburg will no longer be subject to Public Safety Power Shutoff events. The community will also benefit from reduced greenhouse gas emissions since the solar with propane backup system provides up to an estimated 89 percent renewable energy.

A Bigger Plan for Remote Grids

The Briceburg project is one of the initial remote grid installations PG&E is undertaking as part of its 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan (WMP). The utility set a projected target of 20 operational remote grid sites by the end of 2022, according to its plan submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission.

In a public regulatory filing, PG&E said that it has identified the potential for “an eventual portfolio of several hundred Remote Grid line segment opportunities in total… [that] would serve a small but significant number of locations at the edge of the distribution system where energy use is low, but delivery infrastructure challenges are high.”

Briceburg is an ideal test case for PG&E to explore renewable standalone power systems: a small community located at the end of a long set of distribution lines that ran through high-fire-threat terrain. An on-site power system will not only eliminate much of the maintenance and vegetation management costs needed for power lines; it also helps mitigate the risk of future wildfires sparked by electrical infrastructure.

Working with investor-owned public utilities is a promising area of expansion for BoxPower. In addition to the Briceburg array, BoxPower has recently completed a similar project for another utility company in Northern California.

“It’s exciting to be working in this new area of utility-owned remote power systems, and even more so to be actively striving to protect California from devastating wildfires. We are thrilled to be working on a solution that can lead to a more sustainable, resilient, and safe electric distribution system,” said Angelo Campus, CEO / Co-founder at BoxPower.

The Remote Grid System at a Glance

  • Designed, installed, and operated by BoxPower; owned by PG&E
  • 96 Canadian Solar 380W panels resulting in a nominal PV power of 36.5kW
  • 69.12 kWh lithium ferro phosphate battery bank
  • 27.2kW of continuous power output; surge capacity of up to 48kW
  • Two integrated 35 kVA propane prime power generators
  • Fire suppression system
  • PG&E and BoxPower can monitor and control the system via satellite, with remote performance monitoring, reporting, and automated fuel delivery capabilities.

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Source: Renewable Energy