On the Path to an Advanced Energy Community

Santa Monica has received funding for their Advanced Energy Communities project, focused on turning the “City Yards,” into a microgrid.


“There is a growing level of sophistication that we need to be prepared for,” said Garrett Wong, Senior Sustainability Analyst for the City of Santa Monica, discussing Santa Monica’s microgrid project funded by the California Energy Commission’s EPIC Challenge to Accelerate the Development of Advanced Energy Communities (AEC). Along with 12 other communities across the state, the City of Santa Monica received funding for their AEC project which is focused on turning the 14.7 acre “City Yards”, a base for the city’s municipal operations, into a microgrid integrating renewable generation, energy storage, and electric vehicles.

Ultimately, the microgrid project will become a testing bed for exploring community aggregation. The development of Santa Monica’s microgrid is a “big step forward for Santa Monica to be in control of their energy destiny,” said Wong. “But we really haven’t been thinking about it from this perspective before. As we continue to push the envelope we should also be thinking about how to prepare our own staff for the growing complexity of these projects. So we are in the process of increasing staff energy fluency so we can be better prepared for the future grid.” Since it will be integrating renewable generation, storage, and electric vehicles, the AEC project may, in fact, be the best experience Wong and other staff working in the Office of Sustainability and the Environment can receive in providing clean and reliable energy to their community as the grid continues to evolve.

This AEC project isn’t the first time Wong worked to provide clean energy to his community. Since over 80 percent of Santa Monica’s population live in multi-family dwellings, it becomes more challenging to provide residents with access to renewable solar energy.  Virtual Net Metering (VNM) is one way to provide the benefits of renewables to residents in a multi-tenant building though Wong ran into the complex issue of aligning rent control with renewables deployment at multi-family properties.

“We want to be more inclusive. Everyone should have access to clean and cost-effective energy,” he explained. “Single family NEM projects are practically ‘off the shelf’ products but more conceptually advanced projects such as VNM are custom builds that require city departments, building owners, and contractors to buy into the concept and value to residents. Although rent control rightfully protects residents, navigating through that issue also becomes a challenge when you are asking a building owner to make a significant investment in their property but pathways to recover costs become limited.”

Although Wong certainly has more challenges ahead, he remains optimistic for the future. He is currently working on the development of Santa Monica’s Climate Action Plan update that will include the goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 or sooner. In addition, an EV action plan aimed at continued public infrastructure development while also spurring private investment is in the works. “There is a long road ahead of us but we are ready to continue to make our city sustainable and build resilience in our communities to face the continued effects of climate change.”