Valley growers embrace microgrid technology to avoid blackouts, cut costs, lower climate impacts

Potato growers in California’s Central Valley this summer will plug into a grid of their own.

Tasteful Selections is a vertically integrated, farmer-owned company that grows, packs and ships bite-size potatoes. In late March, the group broke ground at its processing plant in Arvin on an intelligent microgrid that builder Concentric Power hailed as the first of its kind for agriculture in the valley.

The $12 million project, which is planned for completion in the third quarter of 2021, will have a total capacity of about 5 megawatts – 3.6 megawatts of cogeneration, or combined heat and power generation, with 120 kilowatts of solar panels and lithium-ion battery storage with 1.25 megawatts/625 kilowatt-hour capacity. The microgrid also can add more solar and renewable natural gas capacity.

“The resilience and sustainability that this project brings to the table shifts our focus from energy stability to our core business rather than the headaches of energy outages and price spikes,” said Bob Bender, CEO and president at Tasteful Selections.

The system is designed to handle energy efficiently, from capturing and repurposing heat during generation to optimizing engine efficiency and advanced load side management.

By incorporating solar energy generation and battery storage, the microgrid provides Tasteful Selections “a pathway to net-zero carbon,” according to Concentric Power. Tasteful Selections hopes to save an estimated 40% in energy costs.

“The cost savings are in comparison to what Tasteful Selections would have paid if buying power from the grid (i.e., the utility),” Concentric Power CEO and founder Brian Curtis said. “By switching to distributed energy sources, the company will be utilizing power that is cheaper and more reliable than that of the larger grid.”

The Concentric Power microgrid will generate power for all of the processing plant operations, as well as keep the lights on during outage events.

“Tasteful Selections was able to utilize a portion of its parking lot for the microgrid installation,” Curtis said. “The solar panels are on a canopy over existing parking spots, while the rest of the equipment – natural gas modules, battery storage cabinets, switchgear, etc. – will reside next to the plant.”

Concentric Power’s microgrid controller, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning technology, will integrate with Tasteful Selections’ equipment automation platform to manage the power load actively and predictively so the plant functions well during both normal daily operations as well as during outage events.

And, unfortunately, power outage events are not a thing of the past.

“Power outages throughout the state have been on the rise in the last several years due to climate change impacts like fires, planned outages by utilities, and an aging electrical grid,” Curtis said. “In October 2019, one outage that occurred over multiple circuits affected 970,000 customers and lasted for up to five days.”

With offices in Salinas, Campbell, and soon Bakersfield, Concentric Power Inc. has a focus on agricultural customers in the state.

“We don’t have specific numbers, but we will point out that the numbers of microgrids throughout the state and related to agriculture are still fairly small,” Curtis said. “Concentric Power is one of the only microgrid developers who is focused on the ag industry, and we currently have six projects for a total of 60 megawatts that are operational, in construction or breaking ground in 2021.

“We see significant tailwinds based on high customer demand for resilient, low cost, clean power as well as dropping equipment costs, favorable regulatory shifts and increasing federal incentives with the new administration,” he added. “As a company, we are proactively ramping up to meet the demand.”

By Stephen Kloosterman. Republished with permission of Vegetable Growers News.

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