The atrium of the California Energy Commission is somewhat of a cement oasis – brutalist balconies are adorned with plants, and the occasional bird who can’t find its way out flies overhead. One of several state agencies focused on energy and the environment, it is full of nearly 300 people working on everything from renewables to energy efficiency to transportation. Their efforts are focused on attaining the ambitious decarbonization goals set by the Governor and state legislature.
I am working in the office of Commissioner Scott, one of five commissioners and the lead on transportation, along with engagement of disadvantaged communities. This means that our office oversees the effort to transition to zero-emission vehicles, including both hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicles. My particular project thus far has been focused on mapping out electric vehicle infrastructure projects that are happening across the state, so as to most strategically implement future CEC investments. My typical day really isn’t so typical at all, with a little bit of everything thrown in. It includes a lot of research time, but also coordinating with other stakeholders to discuss their initiatives, as well as internal team meetings and inter-agency policy meetings.
Friday, July 20th, however, was a particularly exciting day as the other two interns in the office and I traveled to Richmond to attend the celebration for a newly-opened microgrid project at the Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center. The installation was funded by the CEC and carried out by interdisciplinary team that includes hospital representatives, battery and solar cell experts, and of course the microgrid company, Charge Bliss. It consists of a 250 kW solar installation, along with a 1 MWh/250 kW group of lithium ion batteries and a sophisticated control system.
This project is a shining example of both people and technologies working together to take risks and reap a huge reward. First, it resides in a region of Richmond that falls into the 81st to 90th percentile for disadvantaged communities, as defined by CalEnviroScreen 3.0. The Chevron oil refinery is starkly visible from the roof of the very same parking garage that supports the microgrid, a testament to the necessity for increased access to clean energy in this area. Second, it is providing electricity to a hospital, whose energy requirements are both critical and highly regulated, bringing many unique challenges. And third, while the solar cells at their peak produce less than a third of the energy necessary to power the hospital at its peak, the microgrid system as a whole saves the hospital up to 49 percent on its electric bill.
To me, it is also an example of the hope and inspiration that comes even through the layers of bureaucracy present in not only government, but also health care and utilities. Even though we have an upward battle toward reducing California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels in just over 10 years from now, the Energy Commission and all of its many partners represent the greenery poking through the gray. And hey, turns out that cement building is actually in the top 2 percent for energy efficiency, a well-oiled (but not literal) microgrid in itself, full of passionate and creative people working together to achieve more than the sum of their parts.
Read more at the Out West Student Blog »