UCR Project to Install Solar Microgrid for San Bernardino County’s Chemehuevi Indian Tribe

Deployment and optimization of the system is supported by a grant from the California Energy Commission

this is a photo of the Chemehuevi Community Center

UC Riverside engineers are leading a project to install a solar microgrid at the Community Center on the Chemehuevi reservation.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Researchers at the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering, together with a team of industry partners, have begun work to install a power system that integrates solar panels, battery storage, advanced data analytics, and smart energy management controls on the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe reservation near Lake Havasu, CA.

The integrated system, known as a microgrid, is supported by a nearly $2.6 million grant from the California Energy Commission. It will be installed at the Chemehuevi Community Center, which is the tribe’s designated emergency response center, and will provide uninterrupted clean power to run the center as well as the adjacent tribal housing offices during a grid failure. The system will also lower energy costs and enable the tribe to implement year-round advanced energy management strategies. The system is scheduled to be deployed and commissioned by July 1.

“This project has the dual benefit of providing an environmentally friendly power system for the tribe while allowing researchers to study a system that could become a model for people in California and elsewhere,” said Alfredo Martinez-Morales, managing director of the Southern California Research Initiative for Solar Energy (SC-RISE) at the Bourns College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT).

Glenn H. Lodge, vice chairman of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, said the project will help alleviate problems caused by frequent energy blackouts, which are exacerbated by the hot desert climate, floods during times of rains, and the rural location of the reservation, which is served by a single transmission line connection to the grid.

“The Community Center serves low-income families, and during power outages people rely on the facility to provide electricity and a place to sleep, shower, cook, and care for community members with medical needs. The microgrid will enable us to provide emergency shelter for our community when they need it the most,” Lodge said.

California’s electricity grid is undergoing significant changes as customers are using renewable sources, such as the sun, for electricity needs. This presents challenges related to supply and demand, and integration with the power grid. Energy storage technologies, such as batteries, have the potential to increase the reliability of California’s energy supply, but most of these technologies have not yet been tested in real communities.

As part of the project, a 90 kW solar carport PV system from SunPower and a 25 kW/125 kWh Primus Power flow battery energy storage system will be installed on the Chemehuevi reservation. System integration will be provided by EnSync Energy Systems’ advanced Matrix Energy Management and DER Flex technologies together with OSISoft’s PI software.

Once the system is operational, UC Riverside engineers will use their developed energy management control algorithms to implement optimal power management strategies through four techniques: peak reduction, load shifting, demand response, and storage-to-grid activities. The lessons learned over the three-year project can serve as a model for other communities wishing to install similar systems.

“This type of university-industry partnership is critical not only for conducting independent, non-biased validation of leading-edge technologies, but also for providing a roadmap to other stakeholders wishing to deploy similar types of projects with lower tolerance for risk,” Martinez-Morales said.

Other industry partners include Pacific Energy, which is providing electrical engineering and contracting services, and GRID Alternatives, which is providing hands-on solar job training for tribal members.

The project is an extension of CE-CERT’s Sustainable Integrated Grid Initiative, which aims to research the integration of intermittent renewable energy, such as photovoltaic solar panels; energy storage, such as batteries; energy monitoring, management and control tools; and electric and hybrid electric vehicles.

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