Washington aims to reduce carbon emissions by at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2035. This rapid transition to clean electricity means big changes are underway for utilities. Power systems are being reshaped by transportation, building infrastructure, and intermittent renewable generation. Utilities must also accommodate increasing customer-sited generation coming from solar PV, batteries, and other sources. Both present challenges to traditional utility interconnection processes and reliability.
CEL has partnered with Franklin Pierce School District (FPSD) and Tacoma Power to turn disruption into opportunity. The joint Bus Barn Microgrid Demonstration Project will demonstrate how local schools and districts can more seamlessly integrate customer-sited generation and improve local resilience while decarbonizing transportation, buildings, and the grid.
FPSD has over 60 buses and vehicles. These vehicles park overnight at the Bus Barn located at Franklin Pierce High School. The district has already purchased several electric buses and, over the next 15 years, they intend to electrify their entire fleet. They also intend to install 100kW of solar on the high school’s roof. These plans have multiple tangible benefits for the school, the district, and the community, including:
However, without innovative controls and operations, these seemingly positive developments present a conflict between normal utility operations and the imperative to decarbonize. In typical configurations, building and transportation electrification strain utility distribution infrastructure. Together, full fleet electrification combined with FPSD’s heating and cooling needs would overwhelm the school’s meter. This would cause power issues and require frequent reconfiguration of the local distribution system.
To mitigate this concern, FPSD is deploying CEL’s technology to lower peak demand (kW) and better leverage its renewable sources. The CEL robot (which the district has named “Fannie” 🤖 because she controls the fans!) reduced the district’s HVAC load peak by more than 20%. This will reduce energy bills and also the size of the storage and generation necessary for backup, prolonging power duration during outages.
Tacoma Power is observing whether projects like this demonstrate the potential to integrate the robot into all commercial campuses as a means to level HVAC loads so that building owners can more cost-effectively electrify and size non-emitting generation and storage assets for resilience. The pilot will satisfy both FPSD’s need for less carbon-intensive operations and the utility’s need to meet state decarbonization objectives and operate within its existing distribution capacity while effectively integrating renewable energy.
As part of this project, the team held community meetings to gather input and improve understanding of school energy usage and the benefits of microgrids. Our process educated community members about the energy resources schools provide and gave them deeper insight into what it takes to support these resources during outages. Equipped with this understanding, community members engaged in thoughtful and productive discussions surrounding resources and resiliency.
CEL leveraged match funding and in-kind support from Tacoma Power to host a six-hour Smart and Resilient Schools (SRS) Energy summit for the community. The SRS Summit comprised interactive educational activities. Attendees included students, teachers, and building maintenance professionals from elementary and secondary school districts, as well as nontechnical community members. We wanted to see how stakeholder preferences interact with smart building control of space conditioning, EV charging, electric buses, and on-site solar and battery systems. We learned a lot from these discussions (see sidebar) that will inform utilities' and CEL's ongoing work.