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UC Riverside opening Sustainable Integrated Grid Initiative; integration of solar energy, battery storage and electric and hybrid vehicles

Schematic of the “New Grid Testbed” components, including renewable energy generation, energy storage, smart distribution and electric transportation Click to enlarge.

The University of California, Riverside is opening its Sustainable Integrated Grid Initiative to research the integration of: intermittent renewable energy, such as photovoltaic solar panels; energy storage, such as batteries; and all types of electric and hybrid electric vehicles. It is the largest renewable energy project of its kind in California.

The first two years of operation is supported by a $2-million contract from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, awarded in January 2012. Construction of the initial testbed platform was also supported by an additional $10 million in contributions from UC Riverside and private partners. The testbed, which is located at UC Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT), includes:

  • Four megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels. Three-and-a-half megawatts will be at UC Riverside’s main campus. The remaining half megawatt is at CE-CERT about two miles from campus.

  • Two megawatt-hours of battery energy storage. The batteries will store energy for distribution during periods when there is insufficient solar power generation. One megawatt is at CE-CERT and the additional megawatt is located in Winston Chung Hall on UC Riverside’s main campus.

  • 27 electric vehicle charging stations. Eight chargers, with level two capabilities, which are suitable for cars, are in parking lots on UC Riverside’s main campus. Four level two chargers and one level three charger, which is suitable for larger vehicles, are located at CE-CERT. In addition, 14 level two chargers are located throughout the city of Riverside.

  • A UCR-owned and RTA-operated trolley bus that has been converted from diesel combustion to battery electric operation.

  • Energy monitoring, management and control tools developed by UC Riverside engineering students to ensure energy grid stability, reliability and efficiency.

Solar carport. Click to enlarge.

Private partners include Bourns Inc.; Balqon Corporation; SolarMax Technology; and Winston Battery. Public partners include the city of Riverside; Riverside Transit Agency; Riverside Public Utilities; UC Riverside; the Bourns College of Engineering; the Southern California Research Initiative for Solar Energy; and the Winston Chung Global Energy Center. The last two are located at CE-CERT.

On average California derives two-thirds of its electricity from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, and the majority of vehicles in the state are powered by imported oil. Introducing renewable electricity generation and electric vehicle technologies such as plug-in hybrids are two key priorities in California’s strategy to move toward domestic energy diversity and to meet air quality and greenhouse gas goals.

To meet these priorities utility providers need to ensure that bringing a significant number of fast charging electric vehicles onto the existing grid system will not impact the local electricity demand and reliability. A key component of the UC Riverside project is to demonstrate that electric vehicles can be seamlessly introduced into the existing grid system through “smart integration” of renewable energy, storage and advanced dispatch controls.

The first years of operation will be focused on a number of goals:

  • providing a real-world smart grid test bed platform for emerging technologies;

  • providing electric vehicle charging demand without increased grid loads;

  • evaluating the efficiency of different energy storage systems for long and short term renewable generation load leveling and peak shaving use;

  • demonstrating efficiency and performance of various forms of electric and hybrid electric transportation operating in the Riverside community;

  • demonstrating the functionality of smart grid protocols; evaluating power quality issues; and

  • demonstrating battery electric bus transit.

A research consortium is being developed to build upon these and other research goals as new technologies and challenges develop. The consortium will include technology companies, utility companies, energy agencies, investors and venture capital firms.



The total storage is equal to half an hour of nameplate PV generation.  This is a wake-up call for those who say RE can do everything, but they'll just hit snooze.


Imagine a four acre site with overhead mounted solar panels and 100 Tesla sized 100 kWh battery packs for a quick charge station in a city or along the highway. You could handle 10 cars at a time charging 40 kWh in 10 minutes.

Roger Pham

Battery right now is still kinda expensive for mass storage of solar PV and wind energy. However, places like California has plenty of predictable sunshine and clear needs for heating and cooling can use very low-cost per kWh of thermal storage for bulk RE storage, saving battery for electricity for powering CF or LED lighting and for efficient tablet PC's and flat panel TV's after sundown only. PEV's can be charged at work during the day time using low-cost DC current straight from the PV panels thus avoiding the efficiency loss and cost of converting from DC to AC and then to DC again! H2 likewise can be made that way as well, for FCV's as well as for home use in CHP home-based FC's after sundown.

Nuclear energy can best be used in regions w/ poor RE potential.


People cook dinner after sundown, and often cook breakfast before sunrise.  Doing that on batteries will co$t.

Battery storage for PV is energetically problematic:!divAbstract

Roger Pham

If a lot of people drive PEV's and if they can be charged during the daytime at work, then the storage cost would be nil. Likewise, thermal energy storage would be quite cost-effective. For those living in areas with plenty of sunshine in the winters, collection of solar thermal energy can be stored for used at night without too much cost.

If a battery costs $200/kWh and can be charged 4,000 to 5,000 times, then the battery cost amortized per kWh of stored electricity would be only ~5 cents/kWh. Adding this to the <5 cents/kWh for raw solar PV or wind electricity and the total would cost only <10 cents/kWh. If 1/2 of the electricity from RE can be used directly and the other 1/2 from battery storage, then the average cost of RE with storage backup would be about <7.5 cents/ kWh. Adding taxes and profits and other fees and the final cost to customer would be around 10-12 cents/ kWh, or comparable to the average retail electricity prices in the USA. This is not cheap, but still affordable.

Note that the transmission cost is 2-3 cents/kWh from the power plant to the grid. If electricity is collected, used, and stored locally, thereby bypassing the power utility grid, then the 2-3 cents transmission cost would be saved, and would go toward the 2.5 cents storage cost of RE, and customer would not see much of a different in retail prices. Perhaps that's what Solar City is banking on.

Cooking requires 1.5-3 kWh/day per family and would amount to 18-36 cents/day at 12 cents/kWh average retail electricity pricing in the USA.

The problem with battery for RE storage is the lack of seasonal scale capacity to deal with the magnitude of mismatch in seasonal demand and collection. Some form of synthetic fuels will be needed for this purpose and for fueling transportation. H2 is the most obvious and proven, but other schemes of synthetic hydrocarbon synthesized from the combination of waste biomass or CO2 in combination with direct RE or with H2 will also be possible, though not as efficient as H2-FC.

If a battery costs $200/kWh and can be charged 4,000 to 5,000 times...

... it's a hell of a lot better battery than what we can buy today.

The problem with battery for RE storage is the lack of seasonal scale capacity to deal with the magnitude of mismatch in seasonal demand and collection. Some form of synthetic fuels will be needed for this purpose and for fueling transportation.

Given the scale and duration of storage required, RE is likely unable to do the job.  It is certainly a high-cost option, therefore slow to deploy and a poor choice for the urgent response our climate problem requires.  Denmark is still emitting over 300 gCO2/kWh of electricity.  France is under 100, Sweden is under 30.  Denmark has tried renewables, and failed.  We should make no plans that rely on them.  The heavy lifting requires dispatchable carbon-free power, not those reliant on the fitful flows from nature.

Patrick Free

They bought for that University Campus, the greatest collection of greeny toys any geek like me could dream of... Woaaa ! The question is "to do what" with them.
As a future user of PHEV, many questions come to my mind that such equipment may allow to model, then solution.
1st I expect to be able to charge in my home building collective car park - mainly at night and during week-ends and bank holidays -, and then in my work company car park - mainly at office times during the working day hours -, then occasionally while on the go, on fast chargers on the road, all that without the need to have one dedicated Electric subscription and meter in every location, in addition to my flat subscription and meter. I dream to have one one subscription and meter for my flat, then charge via "intelligent chargers", slow or fast, connected to some sort of collective electricity inputs that would have meters with enough intelligence to recognize my car, and move the bill for each of my charges to my home meter & subscription, possibly with a little up-lift price to share local infra costs and maintenance based on usage only. Nothing like this is available in Europe yet, except a few free public chargers that can't be the long term solution any where. All European Electric companies communicate on EV bla bla, but with NOTHING PRACTICAL is offered behind their claims yet. I urge them to innovate with communicant/intelligent chargers connected to communicant/intelligent Electricity meters and sources, designed for public and private car park locations. This is their work to do.
Then I would be interested in even more intelligent and communicant chargers and grid, that could use my battery car both ways if I get an interest for that (Compensation for wearing, plus need to communicate with my agenda to make sure It's always # fully loaded when I'll need to leave). Hundreds of EVs connected during the end of the morning and the afternoon, could provide a useful destination to the intermittent Solar generated power, currently bought at gold price by the grid by political dictate, while almost all wasted by grid today, as it comes when the grid needs the least extra power, plus it is intermittent hence non-reliable..., at least till it can be stored. And hundreds of EV/PHEV car batteries could be the mean to store that at a very cheap cost for the grid. Then the electricity stored during the day, could be pulled by the grid when I return home and connect the car again, as local sources that could help Grid peak hours in the evening and the beginning of the morning, or even during a part of very cold nights... still fully recharging my battery in the last hours before I need to take the car and move back to work... That requires intelligence and software added at multiple levels, linking up to my smartphone agenda and defined individual policies, to my car charger and computer, through the car park charger, and local Electricity subscriber meter, up to the central Grid management Servers.... Who is developing that smart grid for real today ? Not sure. Too much comm, nothing really available and usable in real life. This could allow PRACTICAL things to finally come for real...

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