Clean Tech and Climate Resilience Converge in Wayland

Solar canopy over the Wayland Middle School parking lot.

Wayland’s newest resilience technology may not look flashy - just a series of boxes on the wall at the middle school. But the new equipment allows the school’s solar parking canopy to operate even if there’s a power outage – and prepares for the integration of battery storage in the future.

On Tuesday, Sept. 17, a group gathered under the solar canopies at the middle school to celebrate the culmination of a five-year undertaking to improve clean energy access, energy resilience, and greenhouse gas emissions reductions at the school, which doubles as a regional and community emergency shelter.

“As town administrator, emergency preparation is a top priority. We only need to look at the news to see the devastation that natural disasters cause,” said Town Administrator Louise Miller. “[This new inverter] increases resilience and reduces emissions at the emergency shelter,” by reducing reliance on the expensive fossil-fuel generator when the power grid is down.

MAPC's Cammy Peterson, Ameresco's David Anderson, DOER Commissioner Judith Judson, and Wayland Town Administrator Louise Miller cut a ribbon.

MAPC's Cammy Peterson, Ameresco's David Anderson, DOER Commissioner Judith Judson, and Wayland Town Administrator Louise Miller.

In 2014, MAPC applied for a Community Clean Energy Resiliency Initiative (CCERI) grant from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources on behalf of the Town of Wayland. The MAPC-Wayland application was one of 13 projects accepted to receive round-two implementation funding from CCERI, which aims to increase community energy resilience in the face of climate change.

At the time, the 270 kW solar canopy was in the process of being designed and built, but Wayland and MAPC were already thinking about the next step: making sure the emergency shelter could use the clean energy generated by the array if the grid went down due to a power outage. The town used the grant and town funds to engage Ameresco to install an inverter on the solar system that would both have islanding capability and advanced switching on-site at the middle school, enabling it to offset the diesel generator and extend the duration of emergency power available.

“Almost every solar project that you see out there is not connected to the building; more often, it’s connected straight to the grid,” said John Harper, a member of the Wayland Energy and Climate Committee. “[Wayland Middle School’s array] is now an exception to the rule. We now have advanced controls to sense when the grid goes down and unlock the array from the grid. Now, the generator and solar can work in tandem if the grid goes down, with the solar operating when the sun’s shining and the generator taking over when the sun goes down.”

The project is also “battery storage ready” so that in the future the town can store energy generated by the solar array to further increase energy resilience and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Attendees at the ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday included representatives from MAPC, Town of Wayland, the Wayland Energy and Climate Committee, Wayland Middle School, Ameresco, and Department of Energy Resources. Senator Becca Rausch and Representative Carmine Gentile attended in support of the project. Rep. Gentile presented the Town with a citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives for the initiative.

“Wayland has established itself as a leader in the Commonwealth’s transition away from carbon polluting fossil fuels,” said Rep. Gentile in a statement. “We look forward to the day when micro-grids using renewable energy enable resiliency throughout our communities.”

“With this project, Wayland proves itself to be a forward-thinking leader in sustainability and resiliency,” said Sen. Rausch in a statement. “I am so proud to represent a community taking necessary action to combat climate change at the local level, to support those efforts, and to be a meaningful partner in environment protection and climate change mitigation efforts in the Senate.”

Wayland has long been a leader in municipal-level renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy resilience initiatives. The town hosts four solar installations on municipal buildings, which have a capacity of about 1.3 megawatts and provide the town with costs savings through a Power Purchase Agreement with Ameresco – covering about 25 percent of Wayland’s municipal electricity costs. In addition, Wayland has completed energy efficiency efforts in municipal buildings, purchased two municipal electric vehicles and four electric charging stations at Town Hall, and upgraded all streetlights to LEDs. Collectively, these energy efficiency efforts and more in municipal buildings have saved the town over $200,000 annually from baseline enegy costs, reduced energy use by over 10 percent, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 15 percent. Many of these projects were, at least in part, enabled through MAPC collective procurements for energy management services.

“I’m proud to see the town of Wayland take another big step in decreasing its reliance on fossil fuels,” said Representative Alice Peisch in a statement. “It will take the effort of both municipal and state governments to address the effects of climate change given the lack of action on the federal level.”

The ability to operate solar arrays when the power is out is surprisingly rare around the state, as most solar installations are not designed to send power directly to the site on which they are located. Rather, they deliver power directly to the grid, and safety concerns arise for electric workers during grid outages that prevent distributed energy resources from continuing to send that power.

As climate change increases the frequency and severity of storms and periods of extreme temperatures – and likely the power outages associated with them – the ability to island —to operate when the power grid is down—will be critical in order to allow renewable electricity technologies to improve community resilience and greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

“This project is one of the first of its kind in the Commonwealth,” said MAPC Clean Energy Director Cammy Peterson. “We at MAPC hope to work with the cities and towns in our region and across the state in order to replicate and scale up this type of project, to bring battery storage to this site and to many others, and to optimize the multiple benefits that result: greenhouse gas emissions reductions, energy savings, cost savings, flexibility, and resilience.”