Cities Leading on Resilient Energy

Local governments across California are on a mission to protect their communities from the effects of climate change. One critical factor is access to reliable energy. Citizens depend on power for everything from their morning coffee to critical public health, safety, and economic needs. To protect communities, cities are securing clean, resilient energy systems that meet today’s needs and lay the groundwork for other challenges yet to come.

Creating Resilient Communities

As a concept, resilience means having mechanisms in place to maintain balance during times of stress or difficulty. In California communities, resilient cities are proactively implementing solutions to keep energy flowing during or to quickly recover from outages. Wildfires, power shut-offs, and extreme weather are affecting citizens and cities can power critical facilities and emergency services even during these challenging times.

Given their role as community leaders, local governments are well-positioned to make change. State leaders frame high-level policies, but it is cities that manage on-the-ground climate efforts and responses through capital plans and ordinances. Cities regularly plan for population growth, traffic, and economic development.  And in 2015 and 2016, cities and counties were required to incorporate climate adaptation and resiliency strategies into their general safety plans.

Local governments also bring stakeholders together across boundaries to share information and best practices, leverage resources, and identify critical needs and strategies. For these reasons, California cities have been effective drivers of resilient energy solution—from microgrids to efficient, low-carbon building solutions, distributed solar and storage, and electric vehicle infrastructure.  

Carlsbad Serving its Citizens

As a coastal community in San Diego County, the City of Carlsbad is susceptible to hazards like wildfires, earthquakes and tsunamis, and they place a high value on providing emergency services to citizens. The local electrical grid, however, is subject to energy disruptions. In addition to a power outage, the local utility can implement Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) to reduce the risk of electricity-sparked wildfires throughout the region. Either of these events force Carlsbad to use backup diesel generators to power three of the City’s five critical emergency response facilities—making each outage costly, disruptive, and potentially dangerous when it risks impacting emergency services.

To address this challenge, the City worked with TRC to design its Carlsbad Emergency Services Advanced Microgrid (CESAM). If implemented, the microgrid could offer varied benefits including saving energy and money, providing energy resiliency in the event of outages, continuity during regular operations, as well as reducing GHG emissions toward state and local climate goals.

Design of the CESAM began with a comprehensive analysis to define operations, feasibility, financing, and construction for the proposed system. The system primarily relies on a combination of renewable energy, storage, demand response, and microgrid-enabling technologies that together are more flexible and less expensive than conventional diesel backup solutions. The microgrid also applies three lines of defense to maximize its value:

  • First: The microgrid can operate in ‘island mode,’ separate from grid, for up to 12 hours using only renewable energy. This provides power for the majority of outages, which typically last up to 3 hours.
  • Second:  A combination of solar PV, battery storage, and small natural gas generator supports the islanded system for up to 10 days in the event of a longer outage.
  • Third: The re-use of three existing generators support outages lasting more than 10 days.

Ultimately, the CESAM meets the city’s top priority to keep critical facilities powered to serve citizens, while also mitigating environmental impacts of diesel generation.   

City of Carlsbad Emergency Services Advanced Microgrid (CESAM)

Implementing Our Future Together

Resilient energy solutions must be able to withstand climate-related risks and other hazards to deliver the promised benefits—maintaining essential services with minimal disruptions, recovering quickly when damage occurs, and adapting to changing conditions. Each city will likely take a different approach to their design, and understanding the options is key for long-term success.

For local governments that have not yet completed community resilience planning, we recommend a comprehensive analysis to establish baselines, identify risks, and develop goals and adaptation solutions. From this foundation, cities may pursue climate vulnerability assessments, energy roadmaps, infrastructure adaptation and resiliency plans, and feasibility studies for projects like the CESAM microgrid.

Successful resilience building is a multi-disciplinary team effort. Cities may have varying degrees of staff capacity, technical knowledge, or access to historical data and metrics that can inform best practices. This presents a unique opportunity for local governments to learn from one another and work together, alongside energy industry professionals, to implement a sustainable future for us all.

Author: About TRC

TRC is an advanced energy services company working with cities, local governments, and utilities across California for more than 20 years. Their primary focus is making energy visions actionable—from resilient energy to decarbonization, efficiency, and sustainability. For more information, contact them at