June 18, 2019
A few remote locations along the coasts and mountain roads of
northern California are paving the way to the future of renewable energy. The
Blue Lake Rancheria, a tribe numbering a mere 60 members, recently completed
installing a solar-powered microgrid, connected to the larger grid but able to
sustain itself with batteries and backup generators when necessary. For a small
community surrounded by flammable wilderness, that found itself playing host to
thousands of coastal residents fleeing 2011's tsunamis, the self-sufficiency is
The Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid is just one the projects that Hertz Fellow Peter
Lehman has helped lead bringing decentralized, renewable electricity to new places.
Lehman, the founding director of the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt
State University, led the construction of the Rancheria’s grid, which powers
six buildings, including the casino and over 100 hotel rooms. It is connected
larger electrical grid, feeding power in during sunny days and using the grid
to help make up the gap when clouds and night interrupt power, but can be made
fully self-sufficient when the larger grid is shut off—as it may be during dry
and windy days when sparks from the wires can start wildfires.
As more renewable energy comes online, says Lehman, centralized fossil-fueled
power production will give way to decentralized, renewable microgrids. “It’s
the future of the grid in California,” he told WIRED.
Since the completion of the Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid, Lehman and the
Humboldt State team have been workin on another, serving the county's regional airport,
ensuring sustainable and reliable connectivity for the remote county. “The airport
microgrid will make us a safer and more resilient community and plow new ground
in developing the electric grid of the future,” he said.
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