By Adrian Byram
Together, all of us at Rossmoor spend well over $10 million each year for the electricity powering our residences. For that amount of money, why can’t we get “better” electricity for Rossmoor – better reliability, better price and better sustainability?
PG&E has increased the price of electricity by 28.11% over the past five years. Meanwhile, PG&E’s reliability has decreased and Public Safety Power Shutoffs are going to be a fact of life for a decade or more. Both are major concerns for people like us – who live on fixed incomes and often depend on electrically powered medical devices. So, what can we do about it?
During the past few years, well over 100 individual Rossmoor residents have installed their own rooftop solar systems. They have locked in lower electricity prices for themselves. Some have also tried to solve the reliability problem by installing batteries in addition to solar. Battery installation can be very expensive ($25,000 and more). Their installation usually requires considerable rewiring when done for one unit in a multi-unit building.
The trouble is we’ve been going about this the wrong way. The problem is too big for individual efforts. Upgrading one home at a time requires far more effort, is more costly and is far less efficient than solving the problem as a community.
There is a better alternative – so-called “microgrids” – where all the residents in an entry, or a Mutual, band together to install enough solar and backup power to serve their entire entry or Mutual. Each microgrid’s solar and backup power connects to PG&E’s power, where it flows into your entry. Under normal conditions, your homes remain connected to PG&E: during the day, PG&E pays you and your neighbors for the excess solar power; at night, PG&E provides the power for your homes.
When a PG&E outage occurs, the microgrid’s batteries and standby generator automatically kick in to provide power to all your homes. (Go to www.sustainablerossmoor.org/microgrid for more technical details.) The beauty of a microgrid is you don’t have to rewire any of your homes. The solar and backup power flows in through the same wires PG&E uses right now. When a PG&E power outage occurs, the switchover is seamless, generally letting you continue to use all your appliances, heaters and A/C. So, a microgrid delivers “better” – more reliable – electricity.
The Promise of Microgrids
A microgrid requires substantial upfront capital and ongoing professional management. Fortunately, there are well-established companies ready to finance, install and operate projects like this. (Rossmoor already used this financing approach when it built the solar array near MOD in 2018-19.) By partnering with one of these companies, the residents in an entry or Mutual can avoid any upfront capital outlays and lock in fixed prices for electricity for 15 to 25 years at rates often less than PG& E’s current rates. So, a microgrid can also deliver “better” electricity in a second way – less expensive as well as more reliable.
Finally, a microgrid produces all the power you and your neighbors use over the course of a year from solar energy alone. So, a microgrid delivers “better” electricity for Rossmoor in all three ways – fully sustainable as well as more reliable and less expensive.
Bringing Microgrids to Rossmoor
Over the past months, I have talked with a number of Mutual directors and residents. I’ve found a growing awareness that, not only is this a problem that has to be solved, but the solution has to be at the Mutual level. It also involves finding the right financial and operational partner, one who can work well with the variety of Rossmoor’s Mutuals. In other words, solving this problem will require a lengthy process of negotiation and consensus building.
Sustainable Rossmoor has started the process of finding potential financial partners; we now need residents who are keen on discovering whether microgrids are the right answers for their entries or Mutuals. If you want “better” electricity for Rossmoor, please contact me. We can work together to build a solution for your entry or Mutual.
Compliments of the Rossmoor News, Nov. 11, 2020. Adrian Byram is chair of the Residential Solar Committee for Sustainable Rossmoor. Email Mr. Byram at email@example.com