The Future of Energy is... Micro?

June 18, 2019
Hertz Staff

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 invaluable.

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 to the 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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