News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

UC San Diego's Microgrid Gets Boost from State

The Geisel Library at night, lit by locally-sourced microgrid energy | Photo: Nathan Rupert/Flickr/Creative Commons License

If you'd flown over San Diego during the huge power outage of September 2011, it would have been hard to miss an island of light in the surrounding darkness up around La Jolla. The UC San Diego campus stayed lit while the rest of the city was dark, and it was all due to UCSD's pioneering microgrid, which provides 90 percent of UCSD's power. This week, the California Energy Commission announced it's plowing more than $1.8 million into UCSD's microgrid to help the University develop it even more as a model for the rest of the state.

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The CEC's grant of more than $1.8 million, announced Wednesday, will go toward developing stand-alone energy sources to add to the microgrid, as well as expanding the availability of electric vehicle charging stations on campus. UCSD already has more EV charging spots than most comparably sized university campuses, and is on track to having the most of any university in the world.

"The return on this investment extends far beyond the San Diego campus," said Energy Commission Chair Robert B. Weisenmiller in a press release. "It provides a crucial real-life demonstration of technology that can help to provide California a future of clean, sustainable and reliable energy."

The campus microgrid has been in development for some time, with prior funding from the CEC and other donors totaling about $8 million. The microgrid serves about 45,000 users on the UCSD campus, and is described interestingly in this January 2012 video by the Rocky Mountain Institute:

As a further benefit, UCSD reports that it saves about $800,000 per month on its energy bills as a result of developing the microgrid -- meaning that the funding so far pays for itself every ten months.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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I don't know who told you that UCSD's power stayed on during the San Diego power outage, but all of the campus I saw was very much in the dark. Working in a group with a computer room, we were troubled to see that even the campus emergency power grid failed, leaving us with only something like 30 minutes' battery backup to shut down critical systems.