California Utilities Look to Standalone Power Systems for Rural Customers

BoxPower’s recent installation of a solar power and battery storage system for Liberty Utilities puts the company at the forefront of an emergent industry trend: California utilities considering renewable standalone power systems as an alternative to traditional power lines in remote areas.

Rural electrification has been a mainstay of our business from the beginning. Our containerized standalone power systems provide clean, reliable, affordable energy in remote corners of California, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Until recently, we’ve primarily installed non wires alternatives for individuals and small communities, rather than investor-owned utilities — a trend that is true of the microgrid industry at large.

BoxPower’s partnership with Liberty Utilities on the Sagehen remote grid project is a promising development, and there is good reason to believe that this could be a watershed moment for the way utilities operate. 

BoxPower Microgrid Provides Energy Resilience for California Wildfire Season

When Liberty Utilities was researching wildfire mitigation options for one of its remote customers, it selected BoxPower as its solution. BoxPower’s integrated solar, battery, and generator microgrid now provides clean, reliable energy during wildfire season.

Why are California utilities looking to remote grids now? On the one hand, solar power and battery storage systems like BoxPower’s offer immediate cost savings over expensive line upgrades and maintenance when serving small loads.

At the same time, solar standalone power systems offer unique advantages over traditional wires and poles infrastructure in rural areas. Making the switch can help utilities:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in line with California SB100’s path to 100% renewable electricity by 2045
  • Mitigate the risk of transmission-sparked wildfires (at least 17 of the 21 major Northern California wildfires in 2017 were caused by utility equipment, according to Cal Fire)
  • Increase energy resilience for communities prone to Public Safety Power Shutoffs as part of wildfire mitigation plans

 

In its 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan, PG&E, California’s largest utility, identified “the technology combination of solar photovoltaic generation and battery energy storage with supplemental propane generators as the most cost-effective, reliable, and cleanest solution for initial remote grid sites.”

It is hard to overstate the paradigm shift this innovative approach could represent for investor-owned utilities. Historically, PG&E and other utilities have served all customers in essentially the same way: electricity is generated centrally at a power plant and sent out to homes and businesses through the grid. While this system works well for densely populated urban areas, serving small, remote populations through the grid is relatively costly in comparison.

With worsening wildfires in California and across the West, utility companies can reduce costs, mitigate wildfire risk, and increase energy resilience with the continued adoption of renewable non wires alternatives in rural areas.

Continued successful contracts with utility companies can help BoxPower scale our mission of bringing clean, reliable, and affordable energy to underserved communities.

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