A Green Prison: The Santa Rita Jail Campus Microgrid

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A large microgrid project is nearing completion at Alameda County’s twenty-two-year-old 45 ha 4,000-inmate Santa Rita Jail, about 70 km east of San Francisco. Often described as a green prison, it has a considerable installed base of distributed energy resources (DER) including an eight-year old 1.2 MW PV array, a five-year old 1 MW fuel cell with heat recovery, and considerable efficiency investments. Fig. 1 is an aerial depiction of the Jail with the PV rooftop modules clearly visible.

A current US$14 M expansion adds a 2 MW-4 MWh Li-ion battery, a static disconnect switch, and various controls upgrades. During grid blackouts, or when conditions favor it, the Jail can now disconnect from the grid and operate as an island, using the on-site resources described together with its back-up diesel generators. In other words, the Santa Rita Jail is a true microgrid, or μgrid, because it fills both requirements, i.e. it is a locally controlled system, and it can operate both grid connected and islanded. The substation where the static switch is installed is at the top corner of the Jail as pictured. The battery’s electronics includes Consortium for Electric Reliability Technology (CERTS) Microgrid technology. This enables the battery to maintain energy balance using droops without need for a fast control system. A future project that will add concentrating solar thermal collectors.

The Santa Rita Jail microgrid demonstration is one of nine supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, whose goal is reduction of local feeder peak by 15%. To achieve this goal, the campus must operate away from its optimal operating point, which would typically be the bill minimizing point.

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