As if to underscore the point, power blackouts rolled across California late last week right after dozens of stakeholders urged state regulators to push harder to get more microgrids built.
Hundreds of thousands of Californians lost power Friday and Saturday night when electric demand exceeded supply because of extreme heat. Utilities imposed the rolling blackouts after receiving an alert from the California Independent System Operator.
By happenstance, comments were due Thursday — one day before the first blackout — in a microgrid proceeding before the public utility commission.
The commission is seeking ways to make microgrids, which keep power flowing to customers when the grid is down, more commercially available.
Several commenters praised the state for the undertaking, perhaps the most ambitious yet in the US in support of microgrids. Still, many said California is not moving fast enough or far enough — in statements written even before the rolling blackouts.
Google says go bold on microgrids
What drew the comments is a proposal released last month by commission staff that focuses on accelerating microgrid development by reducing regulatory barriers and by creating microgrid tariffs and community pilot programs.
Google, which is eyeing microgrids for several of its large, mixed-use projects, said that the staff proposal “falls significantly short” and called on the commission to “act boldly.”
“Google believes that extensive development of microgrids will be essential in the coming years, not only to enhance the resilience of the electric system but also to reduce its impact on the environment. Google also believes that technologies already exist, and will continue to mature, that make it feasible to build and operate microgrids on a large scale,” the Mountainview, Calif. company wrote.
An unmet need for microgrids
Demand is high for microgrid projects to serve homes, businesses, and industries in both rural and urban California, the company said. “The commercialization mandate is, in effect, a directive to catch up with an unmet need for microgrids.”
So far, the proceeding has focused heavily on last year’s wildfire-related power shutoffs — and the prospect of more to come. But Google pointed out several additional reasons to add more microgrids, among them “California’s drive to full electrification, progress towards its net-zero energy goals, and the pursuit of climate-positive approaches to urban renewal.”
The company called for rule revisions that would require utilities to accommodate all types of microgrid projects “truly agnostic to microgrid design, ownership, and business model.”
Google described as too restrictive the proposal’s call for 15 community pilot microgrids built by utilities. The projects would duplicate microgrids already operating in the state, Google said, so the commission should instead encourage piloting complex, less studied microgrids that face significant regulatory barriers, such as those that provide clean electricity to large multi-family housing projects.