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Alameda County deploys innovative smart grid solution

By Max Burkhalter
March 28, 2012
When the power goes out in the jail, way too many things can go wrong. Smart grid could be the answer.

Officials in Alameda County recently revealed a completed smart grid project that has enabled the Santa Rita Jail facility to remain operational in the event of a power failure. This has been accomplished through the installation of an advanced microgrid system that manages and gathers electricity in such a way that the system can sustain itself for extended periods of time in the event of an outage.

The cost of the project totalled $11.7 million, but it will save the county approximately $100,000 in annual maintenance fees. Some of the funding for the smart grid system came from the U.S. Recovery and Reinvestment Act as well, making it a project that could actually deliver a return on investment for the county.

The Santa Rita Jail currently holds approximately 4,000 inmates in 18 different housing units that support the production of 12,000 meals daily. In all, the facility has 113 acres of space with approximately 1 million square feet of building space. This mega-jail needs to be powered by 3 megawatts of electricity on an ongoing basis, as any disruption can lead to major problems include serious safety risks for staff and inmates alike. The investment in microgrid infrastructure should make it much easier for the facility to sustain operations and ensure there are not any disruptions to day-to-day operations.

Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern explained that the county has traditionally focused on innovation when it comes to managing correctional facilities.

"Throughout our history, Alameda County has worked to integrate pioneering technologies into our operations. The smart grid at Santa Rita Jail continues that tradition, improving the community's grid stability while consistently providing a safe, secure and humane environment for inmates and staff," said Ahern.

Microgrids are emerging as a key element of smart grid infrastructure, as they enable consistent power delivery independent of the larger grid element. This is accomplished using a combination of smart grid technology and power generation tools. The smart grid tracks exactly how much power is needed within the microgrid at any time and stores excess energy to be prepared for a disaster. At the same time, the microgrid connects independently to power generation sites, allowing for increased reliability in the event of an outage.

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