After Hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastated parts of the country and Hurricane Maria left the entire island of Puerto Rico without power, many saw just how vulnerable power systems are to the elements. Residents of Gaithersburg and Montgomery County will soon be able to rest easy, though, knowing that local emergency services will still be available in the event of a catastrophic grid failure.
Montgomery County, in partnership with Duke Energy Renewables and Schneider Energy, is installing a micro-
grid at Montgomery County’s Public Safety Headquarters (PSHQ), located at 100 Edison Park Dr. in Gaithersburg. This solar canopy in the building’s parking lot will ensure that PSHQ continues to function even if the county’s electricity grid is out.
PSHQ is headquarters to County Police, County Fire and Rescue Service (FRS), the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEMHS), and the 1st District Police Station. It also houses Department of Transportation offices.
The new microgrid will make the building 100 percent sustainable. According to Montgomery Country’s website, it is expected to “generate 11.4 million kilowatt hours of clean and low emissions energy” and “reduce greenhouse gas emission by 3,233 metric tons annually—the equivalent of taking 680 cars off the road.”
Although sustainability is an added bonus, the main goal of the microgrid is to increase the county’s resiliency. The Montgomery County Office of Energy and Sustainability defines resiliency as “the county’s ability to quickly and efficiently respond to and recover from storms and natural disasters.”
Michael Yambrach, project manager with the Office of Energy and Sustainability, said he sees the project already setting a precedent for other areas and making Montgomery County a model for resiliency. “We’re getting a lot of notoriety from other parts of the country that are looking to see how we’re addressing the need for resiliency in local community facilities,” Yambrach said. He also said this is not a new concept, but new technology and renewable programs in conjunction with sustainability are garnering more attention for microgrids.
The project has faced little pushback from the community, gaining support from all Gaithersburg councilmembers. As the microgrid will be solar canopies in the parking lot of the facility, “from a visual standpoint, it’s not impactful to the community,” Yambrach said.
This is the first of what Yambrach called a “community-type microgrid system” that Maryland is hoping to attain in the future. Pepco recently merged with Exelon and agreed to see if they can put in micro-
grid systems in Prince George’s County and elsewhere in Montgomery County. Locations are yet to be determined but more details about the projects should be released in the coming year.