To power his home in the town of Woodside, in California’s San Mateo County, Wim Coekaerts decided to forego connecting to the local power grid. Instead, faced with the cost of having power brought to his home, the Oracle exec instead decided to make his own microgrid.
Coekaerts built microgrid due to the unreliability of California’s power grid
Coekaerts creation of a microgrid for his home was in part motivated by financial need. New homes without utility service in Woodside are required to pay for wires to be buried underground. In Coekaerts case, he was faced with having to pay Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. (PG&E) roughly $100,000 for engineering work on top of also having to foot the bill for trenching.
Combined with the fact that PG&E has often failed to provide stable electricity in recent years amid increasingly ferocious wildfires, Coekaerts decided to go on his own. (Related: California power grid on the brink of collapse.)
The first main hurdle that Coekaerts faced was the size of his house, which spans 2,800 square feet. With this in mind, he conducted research on possible microgrid solutions that would allow him to build a self-sufficient energy system that could power his entire house, with the electricity stored on site.
“This is not a tiny home,” said Coekaerts. “A lot of people say they are off grid, but they have a tiny house where they only need two solar panels. I didn’t want to have a lifestyle where I’m just getting by. This is a normal house with normal energy consumption, and I can charge my car if needed.”
To this end, Coekarts looked at Tesla and its Powerpack battery system. Working with San Francisco-based solar company Luminalt, Coekaerts installed five ground-mounted arrays of 15 solar panels each, 75 solar panels in total, all connected to a 232 kWh Tesla Powerpack.
Total cost of Coekaerts’ grid, including permitting, labor for the installation and a federal tax credit for the solar system, was roughly $300,000.
Other’s also looking into microgrids
Coekaerts isn’t the only executive looking to microgrids in an effort to lessen their reliance on already shaky power grids around America.
Other Silicon Valley executives looking into microgrids include Oracle chairman and chief technology officer Larry Ellison, who has expressed interest in a microgrid for Lanai, the small island in Hawaii that he bought back in 2012. Ellison, who also sits on Tesla’s board of directors, has already incorporated other Tesla technologies into his island, including the state’s first Supercharger for charging Tesla vehicles.
Tesla has since disclosed in a regulatory filing that director James Murdoch purchased a Powerpack system for the company in 2019 for $600,000. It also noted that, in 2020, a company affiliated with Ellison entered into an agreement for ” preliminary design services from us for an estimated $400,000, relating to the potential future implementation of a Tesla Energy system.”
In California, PG&E lists more than half a million residential solar customers, with at least 18,000 having installed some form of battery energy storage system. “Solar plus storage” has now become a common buzzword in the state. Here, residents use solar panels to harvest sunlight into electricity, then use a home battery to store it for later use, such as at night.
But it’s not just limited to California. Last week the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the flow of electricity to more than 26 million Texans, was crippled after a snowstorm led to widespread power outages that left millions in the cold in their homes.
In response to this, early adopters such as Coekaerts are encouraging others who can afford it to invest in a microgrid.
“I’m not a prepper, but I want to be self-reliant,” he states. “And there’s a cool factor to this. If I can do this, other people can do it too. It’s nice to be on the forefront of something that is coming.”
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