The result is a microgrid, completed in April, that is expected to save the community more than $200,000 a year. It includes a 500-kilowatt array of solar panels that were designed and built by REC Solar, a Tesla battery storage system, and contributions from other partners. Siemens maintains the microgrid through a computer-operated management system that decides where best to allocate power resources.
“They have the ability to replace what power they take from the grid, when that makes sense or when it’s down,” Wiedetz said.
The Siemens system makes decisions about where to put the power, basing its analysis on historical data. If a storm were to knock out the power, for example, the microgrid would predict how much power is needed for the Red Cross shelter on site, and allocate resources accordingly.
“A colony on Mars may one day be powered by the types of on-site systems that are already hard at work on Earth,” the company says.
Though a similar system could be the answer to sustaining power on Mars, it’s hard to know right now what a Martian equivalent would need.
“We don’t know what variables to work in the equation,” Wiedetz explained. But he said the microgrid system does have some advantages. One big one is that it doesn’t rely on cloud computing, which would likely not be in place on Mars. The Wiyot residents can also take on maintenance themselves, with remote assistance — just as astronauts would be expected to do so in deep space.
The microgrid system is adapted from previous software used for utility companies for energy management. It’s a new use for the 20-year-old technology, and Wiedetz said Siemens is looking at other ways to implement it, but they’re not yet ready to reveal where they plan to do so.
Tesla, which has positioned itself as a major player in battery development, has worked on other microgrids before. In 2016, the company announced that it and its subsidiary SolarCity helped the entire island of Ta’u in American Samoa. Thanks to a newly installed microgrid with solar panels and Tesla batteries, the island (which used to burn 100,000 gallons of fuel a year) could have full power for three days — even when it’s cloudy.