A power island in the storm

Energy resilience in uncertain times – how Blue Lake Rancheria masters the challenges of today.

In 2017 Blue Lake Rancheria, a century-old Native American reservation in Northern California, launched its low-carbon community microgrid. The huge disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted how much modern societies rely on electricity and the Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid system has proved invaluable – for the second time.

In March 2020, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Blue Lake Rancheria closed its businesses comprised of primarily a hotel and casino.  However, the tribe serves the broader community and is a designated Red Cross shelter.

 

As one can imagine, the global COVID-19 pandemic is presenting a whole new challenge and uncharted territory for the Blue Lake Rancheria reservation. However, extreme situations are nothing new for them. Throughout the wildfires in 2019, the reservation opened its doors, providing a haven for those in need. Lives were saved because it made room in its hotel for medical patients dependent on equipment that uses electricity. When public safety power shutoffs left the surrounding community in darkness, Blue Lake Rancheria’s systems were up and running, thanks to their own power supply, connected to a microgrid

When public safety power shutoffs left the surrounding community in darkness, Blue Lake Rancheria’s systems were up and running.

In ‘normal’ times, the Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid helps power government offices, hotel, casino, cafes, restaurants, and critical Red Cross safety shelter-in-place facilities across 100 acres.

 

During the wildfire power shutoffs, Blue Lake Rancheria was one of a handful of places with extensive back-up power due to its microgrid, where residents and emergency response agencies were able to access services and supplies, including fuel, ice, Internet connection, electronic device charging, ATMs, and other needs.

Self-sufficient islands 

Connected to the larger utility system when the electricity is flowing, microgrids become ‘islands’ when there is a power outage. They disconnect from the system and use – in the case of Blue Lake Rancheria – solar-generated energy stored in batteries to operate independently.

 

The Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid uses a Siemens microgrid controller, the Spectrum Power Microgrid Management System. Siemens engineers were able to access the data and see that the microgrid controller was one step ahead of everyone, anticipating looming problems and virtually stepping in to avert them during the recent COVID-19 power load reductions.

 

 “Our microgrid control systems are allowing us to reduce electrical loads, operate economically, and maintain maximum use of solar energy,” said Jana Ganion, director of sustainability & government affairs at Blue Lake Rancheria.

 

Exerting more control over what types of energy it uses, ideally zero carbon, the microgrid saves the tribe over $200,000 in annual energy costs and cuts about 200 tons of greenhouse gases per year. This pioneering project demonstrates an industry-leading standard for collaboration between state, federal, and local entities; academia, technology providers, and utility partners.

 

The project has worked so well that the Blue Lake Rancheria reservation is now expanding with the addition of two more microgrids that will be in service later this year (2020) and in 2022, more than doubling the amount of power produced in this first project.

We are continuing to provide critical government programs, such as home meal deliveries to the elderly across a 1,400 square mile service territory.
Jana Ganion, director of sustainability & government affairs at Blue Lake Rancheria

Delivering improved resilience and a safe and caring environment for the community during tough times is a very powerful legacy.

 

And for the second time in less than a year, the microgrid coped with an extreme situation. To tackle the COVID-19 crisis essential employees work overtime to make pre-packaged meals. Kitchen staff from the restaurants – that are temporarily closed – have been pulled in to help. “We are continuing to provide critical government programs, such as home meal deliveries to the elderly across a 1,400 square mile service territory”, said Jana Ganion.

 

More than 12,000 meals have been prepared and stored away for delivery. Fresh produce and ingredients from the casino’s restaurants are being used for the meals that would have otherwise gone to waste. In addition, the casino’s freezer space is being used to store thousands of meals.

Secure, reliable energy more important than ever

Across the globe, millions of people are now confined to their homes, working remotely to do their jobs, e-commerce sites to do their shopping, and streaming video platforms to find entertainment and respite from the onslaught of COVID-19 news.  A reliable electricity supply underpins these services, as well as powering the devices most of us take for granted.

 

In many countries, electricity is critical for operating ventilators and other crucial medical equipment in the hospitals treating the soaring number of sick people. In such an unsettling and rapidly evolving situation, electricity also ensures the timely communication of important information between governments and citizens, doctors and patients, and employers and employees.

 

Never has it been so important to have secure, reliable energy. Blue Lake Rancheria shows how it can be done.Keeping people safe, caring for the community, and keeping the lights on.

2020-04-23

Picture credits: Siemens

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