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The Santa Cruz Westside Microblock Project (SWIM)

The Santa Cruz Westside Microblock Project (SWIM): SSRF is beginning the design of a microgrid on the West side of Santa Cruz, incorporating several older buildings (see map below). A key benefit of renewable microgrids connected through a large distribution network is that they can disconnect from the grid, if necessary, continuing to deliver safe, reliable power and avoiding arbitrary blackouts of millions of people. The well-being of tens of millions of people will no longer be in the hands of a distant, profit-oriented utility but, rather, local decision-makers committed to their communities. ” SSRF Policy Brief 20-#1, “ Designing the Santa Cruz Westside Microblock: A Strategy and Call for Renewable Community Energy Systems,” can be found here. You can find out more about microgrids on our microgrid resource page.

SWIM Schematic and Phases

What will come after PG&E? Sixty-six million years ago, an 8-mile wide asteroid slammed into the Gulf of Mexico, near Chicxulub in the Yucatan. That impact abruptly ended the 180 million year-long Age of Reptiles, forever eliminating dinosaurs from the Earth. Today, large electric utilities are the dinosaurs, and an asteroid is coming. Extinction is driven by instability and obsolescence.

First, as the cascading impacts of climate change grow, adverse weather events, combined with decades of fire suppression policies. will increase the frequency of deadly conflagrations. With utility insistence on increasing shareholder dividends rather than maintaining a safe power system, those risks can only grow. Moreover, given the size and scale of PG&E’s service territory and the complexity of its distribution network, even intentional cutoffs will not prevent failures in vulnerable parts of its system.

Rather than trying to save a broken system, there is a solution that will cost less, be more reliable, and do more to reduce carbon emissions: community­ based, renewable energy microgrids. These are generation and distribution systems that serve localities but can also connect with other microgrids to provide power across the state. As the cost of renewable electricity, especially from solar photovoltaics, rapidly declines, we no longer need to rely on large, far away, mostly carbon-powered generating plants. In place of a monolithic, top-down utility linked microgrids offer a bottom-up solution that is far more stable, resilient, and compatible with widespread development of renewable energy resources.