The Details of Our Plan


“Clean Energy for Santa Fe County” is a slogan we’re going to hear more about, but what does it really mean? Discussions abound about businesses achieving “net-zero emissions” even as they use dirty gas or diesel trucks to ship and deliver their products. We hear about communities operating on 100% renewable energy, yet we haven’t seen new renewable energy infrastructure built in our community at that scale. Despite the talk, things look and sound much as they always have.  

Emission-reduction claims are usually based on trade-offs with other users, which is known as carbon credits or carbon trading. While such steps help to fight climate change, they are not sustainable in the long run because they are not based on eliminating fossil-fueled energy production. 

To achieve 100% renewable energy generation, states, communities, and businesses must produce and manage renewable energy themselves. Achieving 100% renewable energy in our current system where major utility energy providers meet consumers’ demands through large energy production facilities and dedicated distribution lines is simply not possible. Utility-scale renewable energy production facilities don’t scale up like fossil-fueled power plants. 

Consequently, we will now need to distribute energy production in the same way that energy consumption is distributed. Distributed models, which achieve generation goals through collections of smaller-scale facilities, offer a far better way to reach our goal of 100% renewable energy. These models join (or “federate”) energy produced by small consumers, such as residences and businesses, into energy produced by larger consumers, such as communities, towns, counties, and tribal groups.

In addition to renewable energy production sources (solar, wind, hydro, etc.) and safe energy storage (batteries, hydro, sand, etc.) to provide energy 24/7, and during weather events and unplanned outages, microgrids are a key technology that will help us to achieve 100% renewable energy. Microgrids are collections of generation sources, storage facilities, two-way communication, and a common information model along with a control center to manage the entire system. 


New Mexico already has initiatives and coalitions promoting paths toward achieving 100% renewable energy. Some of these initiatives stimulate various sectors of the renewable energy marketplace. One of the most significant examples is the community and commercial solar initiative that offers funding for solar installations across Santa Fe County. When combined with safe, clean energy storage, such initiatives can help us transition to microgrids that offer a truly renewable energy supply.

There are several community and commercial solar projects underway across the county. Most are on the order of 5 MW or less.  However, when you add numbers like these across the entire County, they add up.  Additionally, there are already numerous microgrid projects underway in Northern NM including national research partnerships that include Santa Fe Community College.

Courtesy of FranklinWH
Courtesy of FranklinWH

Smart Electric Grids

Smart electric grids have characteristics that distinguish them from traditional grids. First, smart electric grids are collections of grids at differing levels. Each level of the collections is based on shared ideas. Individual users and producers form Distributed Networks like the diagram below. At another level, Distributed Networks form Federations based on higher-level shared ideas such as communities or Tribal entities.

An effective county smart electric grid is Hybrid. It contains the distributed and federated electric networks as micro-grids, and also contains bulk components such as distribution lines and utility-scale generation elements, such as solar farms and battery storage, needed to support the baseline grid. Of course, the smart electric grid remains part of the larger regional electric system, only now it participates in the region to supply and support the grid and draw on the grid when stressed. Now is the perfect time for the County to enact a new vision for energy development, management, and delivery by transitioning to a Smart Electric Grid.

Part 2 - Distributed and Federated Smart Electric Grid


Hurricane Maria in 2017 ravaged the electric power grid in Puerto Rico.  The result was that the entire grid needed to be rebuilt to reconnect the residents of the island to the few central power production facilities that had also sustained significant damage. The Federal Government and FEMA have spent millions to rebuild the electric grid in Puerto Rico.  

Part of that effort is focused on the creation of Federated and Distributed Solar Microgrids.  Microgrids are a collection of electricity consumers who can maintain power during periods of disruption of the primary grid power distribution. 

These microgrids can consist of electric storage that can maintain power for a period when disconnected from the primary grid and recharge when reconnected, or they could include power production capability as well, such as solar or wind.  When microgrids include power production, filling the electricity storage is independent of the primary grid.

The Governing Board of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has established several initiatives aimed at hardening the island’s electric grid against disruption and making the grid more resilient during normal operations.  PREPA authorized two major microgrids on the island, a 12.5-megawatt solar-based system for Vieques and a 3-megawatt system for Culebra.  Additionally, PREPA established the Community-led Microgrid System consisting of solar panels and batteries distributed among buildings and interconnected using software programs and electronic controls.  Community-led Microgrids are an example of Distributed Microgrids made up of a collection of Nodes, where nodes can be farms, residences, apartment buildings, businesses, or industrial sites.  These distributed microgrids can consist of single nodes, or a localized grouping of multiple nodes.

The microgrids for Vieques and Culebra are examples of Federated Microgrids.  Federated microgrids pool nodes and distributed microgrids into a system of microgrids, where that system exists to serve the pools by maintaining power when the larger distribution system experiences a disruption, and to serve that larger distribution system by helping to make it more resilient.  The approach of federated and distributed microgrids and nodes can be described as a Hierarchical Network, or levels of collections as described earlier, where the lower distributed microgrid in the network and the next higher federated microgrid in the network serve to support each other.

Sunrun, a leading home solar, battery storage, and energy services provider on the island, has been exclusively selected by PREPA to develop a 17-megawatt virtual power plant (VPP), which is the first distributed large-scale storage program on the island. The VPP is a cooperative that networks 30 distributed microgrids together via the internet. By networking together more than 7,000 Sunrun solar-plus-battery systems installed on homes, the VPP will provide reliable, abundant solar energy. It will lower energy costs for all consumers and reduce pollution island-wide. The VPP also contributes to hardening Puerto Rico’s fragile grid against disruptions. Batteries enrolled in the VPP will continue maintaining backup reserves to power through potential grid outages at participants’ homes. Residents can adjust their VPP Backup Reserve to determine the level of their contribution while ensuring an adequate backup energy supply for outages. Participants are compensated for strategically sharing their stored energy with Puerto Rico’s power grid.

Utilizing the VPP can prevent power outages and reduce reliance on fossil fuel-powered plants that fill in temporary gaps during high energy demand. During periods of grid instability, Sunnova’s VPP operations team responds to communications from around the grid, moving electricity from some customer’s storage for other customer’s consumption using Sunnova’s VPP platform, delivering energy and resiliency to the grid.

In our next email, we will describe the Santa Fe County Energy Park and how the Smart Electric Grid is Hybrid.  In the meantime, download and read the CEC Concept Paper at (insert link here) from the CEC website and read how it aligns with what is happening in Puerto Rico.

Part 3 - Hybrid Smart Electric Grid and the SFC Energy Park

Today, in the Mueller Neighborhood of Austin, TX, a good portion of the needs for electric energy is provided by 2 MW of rooftop solar panels being managed by an initiative called SHINES (Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar Photovoltaics). SHINES is a joint venture between UT Austin, Austin Energy and Dept. of Energy.  SHINES integrates solar power, energy storage, smart inverters, forecasting tools, market signals, advanced communications, and a software optimization platform. The electric microgrid in Mueller does not meet the power requirements of the neighborhood, so integration with the existing electric grid is required. As this microgrid evolves it hopes to be able to meet 65% of the power needs with renewable energy by 2027 and 100% by 2035.  SHINES will optimize the use of renewable energy along with the existing power provided from the Austin Energy Grid.  

Another element of the Mueller neighborhood microgrid is a bulk renewable energy generation and storage project that includes a 1.5 MW/3.2 MWh Younicos Brand lithium-ion battery storage.  This battery storage facility acts not only as a storage facility, but also as an energy production facility. It does this by engaging in energy arbitrage, where it collects and delivers solar power during the day when electricity rates are high and recharges at night with cheaper wind or other renewable power that it finds from the existing grid.  The Mueller Neighborhood Microgrid, along with the battery storage, transmits its energy across the existing grid networks within the neighborhood and with various interconnections beyond the neighborhood.  The existing electric grid along with other unique renewable energy production and storage facilities will always be there to serve as a fallback capability should the neighborhood microgrid generation and storage and the bulk energy storage and production facility be incapable to meet the needs for power.  This description of the Mueller Neighborhood Microgrid and Storage project demonstrates the Hybrid nature of a Smart Electric Grid.  It combines local microgrids with utility-scale or bulk renewable energy generation and storage utilizing interconnections with the greater Austin electric grid, with that grid serving as both transmission and distribution of the local renewable energy but also as the fallback capability for power in the neighborhood.

Battery Storage of electric power is a necessary component of any solar-based microgrid capability.  In fact, battery storage by itself is becoming an important part of our existing electric grids.  Battery storage provides a cost-effective means to fill gaps in the electric grids demand cycle and to protect the grid system from ‘fault -producing’ disturbances, like storms and lightning, making our existing electric grid system more resilient.  Of course, battery storage provides the same benefits to a federated and distributed microgrid based system.  We are all very sensitive to the inherent dangers of battery storage and their potential impact on our environment.  Distributed microgrids include battery storage in the form of small-scale storage capabilities like the Tesla Powerwall.  The smaller size of the distributed battery storage helps to mitigate these potential environmental impacts because of reduced cell count, lower voltage and power requirements and smaller swings in the demand cycle. A hybrid-based Smart Energy Grid would have as part of the microgrid energy production a bulk-energy production capability that includes battery storage. Bulk energy battery storage demands careful planning and consideration as to its location relative to concentrations of residents and sensitive environmental features.  This is because the larger the scale of the battery storage the larger the potential for health and safety dangers and impacts to the environment.  That is why the CEC has envisioned the idea of the Santa Fe County Energy Park and its location in the southeast corner of Santa Fe County, on 1,200 acres of open space, without proximity to any communities. Additionally, an existing high-voltage (345 kV) power distribution line from southwestern wind power generators passes directly through the northeast corner of the park. The identified location could access that line without any risk to the communities of Santa Fe, and the site would be ideal for establishing a 100 MW solar generation facility and a 100 MW energy storage system using batteries. Such a storage facility could even scale up to 400 MW, providing significant back-up capability to the county power grid.

For more details, download and read the Full Concept Paper to see how it aligns with what is happening in the Mueller neighborhood of Austin, TX and more details on the Santa Fe County Energy Park.

get involved

To paraphrase the famous quote: “All it takes for bad things to happen is for good people to do nothing.”

Your donations help pay for experts, attorney, legal fees, and community outreach. Your support is crucial to our success. To stay up-to-date on the latest efforts, please subscribe to our newsletter.