The UCSD Microgrid – Showing the Future of Electricity … Today

Rocky Mountain Institute visited the University of California, San Diego to study and document the “microgrid” that controls and integrates electricity supply and demand on the campus. UCSD’s microgrid is one of the best examples of an electricity network that provides local control yet is interconnected with the larger electricity grid.

Microgrids are one element in the emerging toolbox of communications and controls technologies that are evolving rapidly to support demand management and the integration of distributed generation into electricity grids. The shift toward greater reliance on distributed resources is one of the trends explored in Reinventing Fire, RMI’s blueprint for shifting the U.S. energy system away from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. The control and operation of the electricity grid is a key enabler for using smaller distributed technologies to solve our energy problems.

At UCSD, the microgrid provides the ability to manage 42 megawatts of generating capacity, including a central cogeneration plant, an array of solar photovoltaic installations and a fuel cell that operates on natural gas reclaimed from a landfill site. The central microgrid control allows operators to manage the diverse portfolio of energy generation and storage resources on the campus to minimize costs. In addition, the campus can “island” from the larger grid to maintain power supply in an emergency, as in the case of the power blackout that struck parts of Southern California, Arizona and Mexico in September 2011.

The microgrid at UCSD provides a living laboratory to experiment with integration and management of local resources and to optimize the use of these resources in interaction with market signals from the larger grid.

Learn how RMI is seeking to identify and amplify the kinds of solutions that have the potential to transform the electricity system.