Pictured: An example of a carport solar system similar to what Camarillo is planning for certain city properties. 

by Kimberly Rivers

The city of Camarillo is moving ahead with the design phase for a project using a combination of solar photovoltaic panels, battery storage and a backup diesel-powered generator for use in the event of prolonged power outages. The project will be designed to achieve zero net energy over an anticipated 30-year life of the system and will reportedly reduce the cumulative carbon footprint of the five selected sites by approximately 88%.

The net decrease in carbon emissions assumes “a portion of the energy delivered from the grid [currently] is generated from fossil-based fuels,” according to the feasibility study. The baseline for comparison was a plan initially proposed that would have utilized a diesel generator only at each location as a backup power source in the event of electricity shutoffs. System options had to provide standby power for a minimum of five days (120 hours) of continuous usage.

A potential design for solar panels at the Camarillo Public Library. Image from Clean Coalition Feasibility Study for hybrid systems in Camarillo.

The diesel generators are used as a stop-gap measure in the event a power outage lasts long enough to draw down all power stored in the batteries and the solar system is unable to generate enough power to cover consumption needs. The study did find, however, that the recommended system “provides enough solar resource to produce the same net energy as the building consumes.”

After a November 2020 review of the feasibility study, last month the city council voted unanimously to award Clean Coalition a contract for designing  hybrid solar-diesel microgrid systems at four city locations: city hall, Public Works Corporation Yard, the police station and the wastewater treatment plant. A fifth location, the public library, will enjoy a purely solar and storage microgrid. The designs should be complete by the end of this year. The Retrofit Companies (TRC) is named as a subcontractor.

The corporate yard already has an existing solar array and the police station and wastewater treatment plant already have a backup diesel generator. New generators will be installed at city hall and the corporate yard. 

“This hybrid solar microgrid project is an excellent example of how the city of Camarillo continues to pursue sustainable efforts that are cost effective, aligning with the City Council Goals and Objectives for Environment/Resource Management,” said Greg Ramirez, city manager. “We are excited to be working with the Clean Coalition to take the next step on these innovative projects.”

In light of public safety power shutoffs, some municipalities are choosing to take advantage of the opportunity to build in renewable energy options. 

“By voting to move forward with designs for these hybrid systems, the city of Camarillo has continued to demonstrate significant leadership,” said Frank Wasko, managing director of the Clean Coalition. “The hybrid solar microgrids will bring the city unparalleled economic, environmental and resilience benefits.”

To fund the project, the city is pursuing a national $50 million grant opportunity offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for projects that mitigate risks from natural disasters. In addition, it is considering a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), in which the city would pay a third-party developer to build, own, operate and maintain the systems. A formal request for proposal (RFP) would be required. This approach should result in the city saving money over the timespan of the agreement, but is based on an assumption that utility rates increase while the city would be paying a consistent “locked-in” rate.

Camarillo’s hybrid microgrid feasibility study is online at www.cityofcamarillo.org/Feasibility_Study.pdf.