Located at schools in the Santa Rita Union School District, the microgrids demonstated that they could operate off-grid last year.

Troubles accessing school property during school hours – and, now, during the COVID-19 crisis – have made it hard to finish work.

The project began about two years ago, when the school district installed solar plus storage at six sites to form microgrids that would provide power during outages.

Solar panels at each school are already offsetting about 80% of the school’s energy and demand usage, creating utility bill savings and environmental benefits, said Ted Flanigan, president and CEO of EcoMotion, which envisioned the project and provided the solar.

“The idea is for this to be a model for other schools. The model shows that low income school districts could go solar and get resilience at no marginal cost,” said Flanigan.

The system installed at the six schools uses DC coupling, with solar DC and battery DC going into the same inverter, and then coming out as AC. “The inverters are bi-directional, they charge and discharge the battery. When the grid is not there, the system is capable of islanding and establishing a microgrid,” said Carl Mansfield, vice president of system solutions at NantEnergy.

“In California, we’re working with organizations providing community choice aggregation. People are looking for these kinds of programs to provide resiliency, including critical facilities and schools.” As early pioneers in school microgrids, EcoMotion, NantEnergy and the Santa Rita schools are showing them the road forward – and its bumps to avoid.