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Energy Currents
A Blog by Enerdynamics

Local Renewable Energy May Be Key for Disadvantaged Communities

by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Facilitator

One of the key concerns about rooftop solar, distributed batteries, and home energy automation is that it has the distinct possibility of exacerbating the current energy-related economic divide. Higher-income customers historically had better access to energy simply because they could afford to pay for however much energy they wanted to consume. Now consumers who choose to become prosumers (sometimes an energy consumer and sometimes and energy producer) will not only be able to make money but may drain revenues off the utility company, which will then have to make up for the loss through higher rates paid by other consumers who can’t afford to invest in the new technologies.

Utilities and regulators are looking for ways to break this cycle for disadvantaged customers. In Larimer County, Colo., low-income customers can participate in subsidized shares of the PV for All community solar project that then provides them the same benefits as customers who can afford to put solar on their own homes. And in Louisiana, Entergy pays low-income customers a $30 monthly fee in return for permission to install Entergy-owned solar panels on the customers’ homes through the Residential Rooftop Solar Program

A new program recently announced for the San Gabriel Valley near Los Angeles promises even more. Using a grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) EPIC program, the Basset-Avocado Advanced Energy Community (BAAEC) project promises to make low-income customers full-fledged prosumer participants in a local energy delivery and trading platform. According to a press release from BAAEC, the program consists of seven components:

  1. A digital application to engage and guide community members towards decarbonization: "people first"
  2. A smart community solar and storage system to offset annual electricity load
  3. A campus microgrid resilience hub to provide clean back-up power to the community in emergencies, severe heat days, or blackouts
  4. A prosumer network and a virtual power plant integrating 50 single-family homes equipped with solar photovoltaic and battery storage to demonstrate a blockchain community network pilot
  5. A mobile grid that includes a community-operated EV vanpooling service and a network of fast EV charging stations to decrease the use of fossil fuel vehicles, reduce carbon emissions, and improve air quality
  6. An indoor-outdoor smart pollution sensor network including an IoT-based NOx emissions monitoring system to measure and improve emissions from fossil fuel vehicles still operating within the community
  7. A mobile living laboratory to periodically perform rounds throughout the community, measuring, and reporting real-time decarbonization impact

For more details on the project see the CEC report Accelerating Advanced Energy Community Deployment Around Existing Buildings in Disadvantaged Communities.

The Microgrid Concept

Key technologies will include:

  • PV panels
  • Advanced inverters
  • Battery storage
  • A community energy management system
  • EV charging stations
  • Various energy efficiency retrofit packages

As stated in the CEC report: 

“The advanced energy community design and financing approach aims to address longstanding structural and programmatic barriers, including high levels of renters and lower-income and limited-English-speaking residents; lack of meter-based data for energy planning and effectiveness evaluations; lack of full community engagement; and inadequate business and financing strategies.” 

Keys for pulling the project together included use of advanced data analytics; a coalition that included community organizations, local government, an energy design firm, and UCLA; and funding from the California EPIC program. The program hopes to demonstrate that transformation of energy-inefficient buildings coupled with access to renewable energy for disadvantaged communities is a feasible goal.  This and other projects around the country will provide useful case studies for utilities and energy service providers to design programs that allow all customers to participate in the energy future regardless of income level.

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