The California Energy Commission is offering $14 million to organizations that build mobile clean-energy backup generators for use during grid outages, such as public-safety power shut-offs.

The CEC has not funded clean-energy mobile backup generator research in the past, but PSPSes are now "impacting the safety and health of a substantial number of customers in investor-owned utility territories," the grant solicitation says. A clean-energy backup generator alternative is needed to provide power to customers during PSPSes or other emergency outages, the agency said.

Emergency responders, residents and small businesses currently use mobile fossil fuel backup generators during grid outages, but these generators are expensive and require a replenishable fuel supply that might not be available in emergencies, the solicitation says. Additionally, fossil fuel-fired generator systems can "exacerbate poor air quality, particularly in fire zones," the documents say.

The commission is funding three types of projects:

  • Smaller-scale generators: Must be able to service loads up to 9 kW to provide power for cell phones and computers, among other applications.
  • Larger-scale generators: Must be able to service loads up to 10 kW to provide power to medical support tents, among other uses. These generators would replace or defer the use of fossil fuel generators during a grid outage, but do not need to fully replace a fossil generator to receive funding.
  • Independent generators: Must be able to service a minimum of 35 kW of continuous load for at least 48 hours. These systems must be self-contained—i.e., they would not need additional equipment or fuel from another location. Any renewable resource, such as hydrogen, biomass or wind, qualifies.

Renewable mobile generators can also be used when the grid is running normally: The generators can charge electronic devices or electric vehicles, among other uses, which would reduce fossil fuel system emissions even more, the solicitation says.

California has more than 24,403 backup and emergency generators in only five of the state's 35 air districts, and emergency generators are typically powered primarily by diesel fuel, according to a May research report by consulting firm M.Cubed (see CEM No. 1598). The state's backup generators in total have about 8.3 GW of capacity—or about 10 percent of the state's total generating capacity, according to the report.

Applications for the funding award are due April 9. The commission plans to announce the winners at its June 9 business meeting.

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Staff Writer

David Krause is an energy reporter covering the California Energy Commission and Air Resources Board. He writes about transportation, climate change, utilities, and wildfires. He has an MFA in Writing, an MA in English, and a BS in Civil Engineering.