The entrance to Schatz Energy Research Center on the Humboldt State University campus on Feb. 1. | Photo by Elliott Portillo

How a Local Clean Energy Microgrid Could Transform California

The Schatz Energy Research Center proves that 100% renewable energy operations are an attainable goal for California

A new project in Humboldt County is paving the way for clean energy operations throughout the rest of California. After two years of planning, construction of the Redwood Coast Airport Renewable Energy Microgrid is set to begin in April of this year.

A microgrid is decentralized from the larger energy grid. It is able to become its own “island.” It ensures that power can be restored to a specific area during emergency situations even when the larger energy grid is down, such as during a public safety power outage. A notable component of the RCAM is that it is entirely run by renewable energy, operating off of solar power, making it even more appealing to the area.

The prime contractor and lead technology integrator for this project is Humboldt State University’s very own Schatz Energy Research Center. The RCAM will be the first-ever multi-customer microgrid in Northern California.

Environmental Science Professor Jack Murphy said that in his opinion, the clean energy microgrid is a great idea for two reasons.

“The first is just that it contributes to the decarbonization of our electrical generation, and that’s good,” Murphy said. “Less carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere is good and humanity needs big clean energy projects ASAP. The second reason it’s a great idea is that the airport could be critically important during regional disasters such as tsunami or earthquake, and having a microgrid operable when the grid is down would be hugely important.”

Another important goal of the RCAM project is to create a template for the construction of other clean energy microgrids across the state. By partnering with PG&E and the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, the microgrid will be an example for the rest of California of the policies, tariff structures, and operating procedures that are involved with a project like this.

“The RCAM project has led to the development of PG&E’s recently proposed Community Microgrid Enablement Program,” David Carter, principal engineer for the Schatz Energy Research Center said. “CMEP creates a process and a path for other eligible communities to deploy front-of-the-meter, multi-customer microgrids that will provide resilience to critical facilities.”

With the details of the successful project documented, other communities can use it as a technical guide for the construction of new microgrids. Reducing the use of fossil fuels in a state that has the second highest amount of annual carbon dioxide emissions in the entire country is an exciting step forward toward combating climate change. The RCAM project demonstrates that it is possible for a community microgrid to be powered by 100% renewable, solar energy.

When asked about the work of the Schatz Energy Research Center, HSU alumnus Kyle Powell said that he is continuously inspired by the various sustainability efforts that come out of the university’s programs.

“Humboldt State as a whole does a great job of promoting sustainability and clean energy throughout all of its programs,” Powell said. “It’s one of the main factors that brought me to the university, and it continues to influence my life on a daily basis.”

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  1. mst58 mst58 Thursday, February 4, 2021

    Always happy to hear about greener courses of energy and standards of living coming to Humboldt! Definitely seems less controversial and possibly much less environmental disrupting as the wind turbine project, too!

  2. Stephen Stephen Thursday, February 11, 2021

    California has 12% of the US population and the third lowest carbon footprint per capita of all the states.

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