A pathway to zero net energy: Atherton, California

The Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) initiative — a collaborative effort between non-profits, government agencies, utilities, businesses, and institutions — is fostering the development of Advanced Energy Communities (AEC) in southern San Mateo County, California. AECs incorporate energy efficiency, onsite renewable energy, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure to secure a host of environmental and economic benefits. One of the PAEC partners is the Town of Atherton, which is presently developing an AEC that will include a showcase of a newly renovated Civic Center as part of this initiative.

Spread across five acres, Atherton’s Town Center is comprised of a cluster of buildings (some of which were built in the 1920s) and temporary trailers. This municipal campus is undergoing significant renovations and will include: a new Library and renovated Town Hall, a new City Hall building with Town Administration and Community Development offices, a new Police Department including Council Chambers and an Emergency Operations Center, and a renovated Corporation Yard and Public Works building. A goal for the new municipal campus is to achieve zero net energy. In order to reach zero net energy, Atherton’s Town Center is being designed to maximize energy and water efficiency, as well as to accommodate onsite solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to meet its electricity demand.

Developing the pathway to zero net energy for this project was not easy. Choosing non-fossil fuel heating and cooling technologies and maximizing solar energy in an area with heavy tree cover, all while keeping the project within budget, were just a few of the challenges. The design team also had to work within the confines of site setbacks, existing roadways, and existing utilities — all three constraining the geometry of the new Town Center buildings and the siting of the solar PV systems.

Driving down energy demand and maximizing renewable generation

Before sizing PV systems for the Town Hall site, the design team sought to develop highly efficient buildings and their systems. Energy efficient technologies planned include: LED lighting and controls, plug-load controls (which power down equipment when not in use), displacement ventilation in the Library, natural ventilation in the Library and Civic Center, an air source heat pump, and a thermal energy storage tank.

Between the HVAC, lighting, and plug-load controls, site designers estimated that the buildings’ Energy Utilization Index — a Federal energy benchmarking tool that compares building energy use — will be a fraction of the national median energy use for similar properties. After exhausting every possible opportunity for energy efficiency, the team was ready to explore onsite renewable energy potential.

A total of 367 kilowatts of PV is currently planned for installation across roofs and solar carports at the site, and considering the five-acre site has a dense tree canopy, the design team aimed to retain these existing trees while maximizing PV generation. Solar carports will be particularly beneficial at this campus, as they reduce the solar absorption and radiation by vehicles and roadways while producing carbon-free electricity.

Atherton Civic Center with tree canopy | Source: Town of Atherton

Solar Emergency Microgrid

A unique design feature in this project is deploying an onsite battery that will work in combination with the solar PV to provide emergency backup power. Together, these two elements create a Solar Emergency Microgrid that utilizes clean, non-polluting resources to provide backup power and can replace the existing dirty, fossil fuel-powered generators.

Atherton’s Solar Emergency Microgrid is designed to provide power to critical operations at the Civic Center. It is sized to provide backup power for 72 hours under poor weather conditions (in which there is little solar output) and will be able to operate indefinitely under normal weather conditions. In the event of a prolonged grid outage, the Solar Emergency Microgrid will allow the police department to maintain services, including all of their dispatch and administrative capabilities, as well as serve the community as the Emergency Operations Center.

Solar Emergency Microgrid powering a critical facility during an outage | Source: Clean Coalition

Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC)

Atherton’s Civic Center project is currently scheduled to break ground in early 2018 and incorporates many key features of an AEC. While the essential elements of an AEC are all replicable and scalable, there are many barriers to their widespread adoption. With support from the California Energy Commission, the PAEC initiative is designed to study the barriers to AECs and identify breakthrough solutions to speed adoption of clean local energy projects and help build a resilient future.

The Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) is a groundbreaking initiative to streamline policies and showcase projects that facilitate local renewables and other advanced energy solutions like energy efficiency, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The PAEC will create pathways to cost-effective clean local energy and community resilience throughout San Mateo County and the City of Palo Alto; and beyond. The PAEC is a collaboration between the Clean Coalition, the California Energy Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric, and an array of municipalities, emergency response jurisdictions, schools and universities, and corporate entities. For more information, please visit www.clean-coalition.org/PAEC.

Palo Alto’s Jewish Community Center: Heating and cooling in newer, cleaner ways

The Oshman Family Jewish Community Center (OFJCC) in Palo Alto has 320 kilowatts of rooftop solar, but that’s not its most innovative sustainability feature. The complex of 192 condo units, fitness center, child care center, and community meeting spaces uses a series of water source heat pumps to cool indoor spaces with less energy than a conventional air conditioning system. In a typical commercial building, space heating and cooling systems consume about 40% of the site’s energy. For those looking to make their buildings more efficient and reduce their site’s carbon footprint, water source heat pumps are a great place to start.

How the technology works

The OFJCC’s water source heat pump functions like a reverse air conditioner. Instead of blowing cold air into a room, the system removes the room’s hot air. A series of heat pumps transfer heat from the air to circulating water then deposit the warm water into a large central tank. The system is designed to maintain the water tank’s temperature between 70 and 90 degrees. On warmer days, when the water temperature in the tank rises to 95 degrees, the system automatically sprays water out of the tank to dissipate heat. If after five minutes the system does not cool down, fans automatically turn on to speed up evaporation. In moderate climates like Palo Alto, California, this type of system removes building heat relatively efficiently.

The OFJCC | Source: Cobalt Power Systems Inc.

Dramatically lower operating cost and carbon footprint

For those interested in hedging against future rising energy costs, water source heat pumps save money over the life of the building. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “because they move heat rather than generate heat, heat pumps can provide equivalent space conditioning at as little as one quarter of the cost of operating conventional heating or cooling appliances.” Heat pumps also reduce the carbon footprint of a building or complex, especially in places like Palo Alto where electricity is 100% carbon neutral.

Other sustainability building features

At the OFJCC, a Building Information Modeling System monitors and controls temperature and lighting to ensure optimal efficiency. There are also four electric vehicle (EV) chargers on-site that help reduce the site’s transportation carbon footprint. Facility manager Mark Meyers plans to expand the number of EV chargers. He is also considering replacing the diesel backup generator with a Solar Emergency Microgrid, a system where solar photovoltaic panels and a battery system provide backup power in the event of a grid outage.

Supporting local clean energy goals

The OFJCC’s energy efficient operation is helping the City of Palo Alto realize its goal for businesses and residents to reduce the community’s greenhouse gas emissions 15% by 2020 from a 2005 baseline. Further bolstering this goal, and the state of California’s ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, the Peninsula Advanced Energy Community initiative, led by the Clean Coalition with local support, is promoting this and other innovative community projects.

The Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) is a groundbreaking initiative to streamline policies and showcase projects that facilitate local renewables and other advanced energy solutions like energy efficiency, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The PAEC will create pathways to cost-effective clean local energy and community resilience throughout San Mateo County and the City of Palo Alto; and beyond. The PAEC is a collaboration between the Clean Coalition, the California Energy Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric, and an array of municipalities, emergency response jurisdictions, schools and universities, and corporate entities. For more information, please visit www.clean-coalition.org/PAEC.

Clean Coalition receives CEC grant for solar+storage in San Francisco

Aerial view of Valencia Gardens Apartments

In March 2017, the Clean Coalition was selected to receive a grant from the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) Electric Program Investment Charge program, which offered “Solar +: Taking the Next Steps to Enable Solar as a Distribution Asset.” Under this grant, the Clean Coalition will lead the implementation of an innovative energy storage system that will be paired with an existing rooftop solar project.

In collaboration with project partners that include Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the City of San Francisco, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), PATHION (an energy storage company), and the Mission Housing Development Corporation (owner of the multi-hundred unit senior and low income housing Valencia Gardens Apartments), the Clean Coalition will lead the Valencia Gardens Energy Storage project, which adds 750 kilowatts (kW) and 750 kilowatt-hours of energy storage to the roughly 800 kW of rooftop solar that is already interconnected to the distribution grid within the neighborhood of Valencia Gardens Apartments. The Valencia Gardens Energy Storage project has three fundamental objectives, all of which will inform Community Microgrids projects going forward:

  1. Increase the hosting capacity of the circuit by at least 25%.
  2. Provide a comprehensive case study on the economics of utilizing energy storage for provisioning grid services through wholesale markets; via CAISO and potentially the local utility, which is PG&E.
  3. Investigate the full set of costs and benefits for the Valencia Gardens Energy Storage project to provide Community Microgrid resilience to priority loads within the neighborhood, including those at the Valencia Gardens Apartments and other nearby PG&E customers. This objective will require comprehensive assessment of technical requirements, prospective solutions, costs, benefits, and potential compensation mechanisms.

Valencia Gardens solar+storage system diagram

Further, the Valencia Gardens Energy Storage project will leverage in-process efforts between the Clean Coalition and PG&E to streamline wholesale distributed generation interconnection, which is happening through an existing CEC grant for the Clean Coalition’s Peninsula Advanced Energy Community.

Clean Coalition helps California CCAs move the needle on distributed energy resources

The Clean Coalition is excited to be part of California’s rapidly emerging Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) market, and we are proud of our ongoing work to support the accelerated deployment of clean local energy through the CCA mechanism. As this market continues to mature, we see CCAs growing in size and number, as well as becoming more sophisticated and innovative in their approach to spurring deployment of local renewables. With as much as 50% of California’s electricity load likely to be served by CCAs within a few years, it’s clear that they will play a significant role in California’s clean energy future.

Over the past several years, the Clean Coalition has worked closely with California’s existing CCAs to develop successful feed-in tariff programs, which were designed to stimulate local commercial-scale solar photovoltaic systems within the CCA service territories. These programs are currently setting the bar in California’s CCA space, and they have already been effectively incentivizing the development of new local renewable energy capacity.

Moving further into 2017, the Clean Coalition is looking forward to working with our partners — The Offset Project, ALH Economics, EcoShift Consulting, and Optony — to develop a feasible and comprehensive plan for an accelerated and cost-effective deployment of distributed energy resources (DER) for the East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) CCA.

EBCE has a unique approach to integrating DER into the foundational CCA planning processes, called Local Development Business Plans (LDBP). These LDBPs will quantify the costs and benefits that DER can deliver to the CCA and the ratepayers it serves, and they will lay out a plan for maximizing CCA performance using advanced DER deployment strategies.

Our integrated, interdisciplinary team of partners for the EBCE LDBP project will evaluate a wide range of DER technologies (energy efficiency, demand response, renewables, energy storage, microgrids, and virtual power plants), policies and incentives, financing mechanisms and ownership models, and cost-effective program options. Community stakeholder engagement and expert economic and fiscal impact analyses are integral to every aspect of the project, and this foundation will allow us to provide EBCE new and actionable insights into the true value of integrating DER into the CCA’s procurement strategies and ongoing operations.

We are thrilled to see a number of innovative approaches to clean local energy deployment emerging in existing CCAs throughout the state in recent months. Marin Clean Energy recently adopted the industry’s first Energy Efficiency Business Plan, which sets a new bar for administering local energy efficiency programs through the CCA model. Sonoma Clean Power recently piloted an exciting electric vehicle (EV) program in partnership with EV and EV charger manufacturers to provide unparalleled incentives for its customers. And Lancaster Clean Energy moved quickly to forge an innovative partnership with Antelope Valley Transit Authority to support the electrification of their entire fleet of metro buses using smart charging infrastructure.

The growing momentum of CCAs throughout California, coupled with the state’s aggressive energy and environmental goals, is already driving meaningful development of local renewable energy. The Clean Coalition and our partners are honored to be part of this important movement, and we are working hard to further expand use of clean local energy to benefit communities across California.

Solar Siting Survey: Identifying vast potential for clean energy in southern San Mateo County

Over the past few decades, the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels has fallen precipitously while their efficiency has risen. Yet, a very small percentage of U.S. commercial sites have installed solar PV — revealing an untapped market.

Unlocking this important market offers a tremendous opportunity to expand cost-effective local renewable energy. Commercial-scale solar PV systems are significantly larger than residential systems, securing a lower installed cost per watt. And because these projects generate electricity close to where it is consumed, they don’t rely on transmission infrastructure, which is both inefficient and expensive.

The first step to unlocking this market is assessing the technical potential for commercial-scale solar development within a specific geographic area. As part of the Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC), an initiative designed to streamline policies and showcase projects that facilitate local renewables and other advanced energy solutions, the Clean Coalition conducted a Solar Siting Survey to assess the potential for commercial solar PV in southern San Mateo County. The PAEC Solar Siting Survey evaluated thousands of potential locations — based on site characteristics, existing loads, and grid infrastructure — to identify those that are best suited for a solar PV installation of at least 100 kilowatts (kW). In total, this Solar Siting Survey identified over 65 megawatts (MW) of technical potential for commercial solar installations within the PAEC region.

An overview of the PAEC area evaluated in the Solar Siting Survey | Source: Clean Coalition

Through our unique Solar Siting Survey methodology, we evaluate all prospective solar sites and then focus in on those sites that are most viable, given existing rooftop clutter, like piping and air conditioning units, as well as shading from trees and nearby buildings. While there are other online solar potential tools, the Solar Siting Survey approach provides far greater accuracy of technical siting potential and includes non-traditional structures for evaluation, including parking garages and surface lots.

Notably, parking garages and surface lots offer more than 40% of the commercial solar potential in southern San Mateo County. The Clean Coalition also identified numerous schools with attractive solar siting opportunities. While some schools had less than 100 kW of solar potential, when aggregated with other schools in their district, the 100 kW threshold was met. Overall, 448 potential commercial solar sites were discovered in southern San Mateo County, including 260 flat roofs, 49 sloped roofs, 111 parking lots, and 20 parking garages.

A closer view of the Solar Siting Survey | Source: Clean Coalition

The Clean Coalition’s PAEC Solar Siting Survey includes a comprehensive spreadsheet and a sophisticated mapping tool to support utility staff, city officials, solar project developers, and other community stakeholders in pursuing these siting opportunities.

If you are interested in learning more about the Clean Coalition’s Solar Siting Survey work, please contact Josh Valentine at josh@clean-coalition.org.

The Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) is a groundbreaking initiative to streamline policies and showcase projects that facilitate local renewables and other advanced energy solutions like energy efficiency, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The PAEC will create pathways to cost-effective clean local energy and community resilience throughout San Mateo County and the City of Palo Alto; and beyond. The PAEC is a collaboration between the Clean Coalition, the California Energy Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric, and an array of municipalities, emergency response jurisdictions, schools and universities, and corporate entities. For more information, please visit www.clean-coalition.org/PAEC.