UCSD Microgrid Showcases Smart Grid Opportunities

National infrastructures from the grid, and bridges to pipelines in major urban areas are aging and in serious need for redesign and rebuilding. Mission critical microgrids at universities are a leading example of what is possible for the nation’s grid security and the savings they provide to a community could pay for other infrastructure repairs that will be necessary in the coming years.

The University of California at San Diego (UCSD) is taking the lead in developing one of the most sophisticated community power grids in the nation. The ability to island from the local grid in times of peak demand or other crisis is critical for universities to guarantee power for valuable research taking place on campuses, to guarantee the welfare of its students and faculty and other mission critical infrastructure on its campuses.

National and local incentives and grants helped the university purchase some of the new technology that provide financial savings, increase energy efficiency and energy security benefits. The systems now save the school as much as $850,000 a month in utility bills. Across the US conversations about the growing necessity for grid security and smart grids are a growing interest.

UCSD started to diversify their grid in 1962 with two natural-gas cogenerators for the central plant designed to provide gas-fired electricity as well as district heating and cooling for the school’s buildings. Over the years, UCSD gained self-sufficiency by adding steam turbines, solar photovoltaic panels, fuel cells and energy storage.

Power resources across the campus now operate under the control of a sophisticated energy management system, enabling the campus microgrid to generate, store and dispatch electricity as needed for the university and ultimately providing 92 percent of electricity used on campus. The school has become a magnet for new technology and continues to diversify and add to its grid capacity.

Byron Washom is a solar and cleantech entrepreneur who came out of semi-retirement to work at UC San Diego when his son came to the university as an undergraduate. Washom is the chief organizer, fundraiser, motivator and connector of the microgrid. A recent article by Energy & Environment News noted a conversation with David Weil. “When Washom came to campus six years ago, his eyes lit up, and he said, ‘This is the perfect place to do a microgrid,’ said David Weil, a former sustainability director at the university.”

Diverse and innovative technology including CHP, solar PV, backup storage and charging stations in use at UCSD provide a test market showcasing smart grid opportunities that increase energy efficiency, provide energy security and have the ability to save communities millions of dollars annually.


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