The Oakland EcoBlock, Phase II: A Zero Net Energy, Low Water-Use Retrofit Neighborhood

Research project to implement a replicable block-scale electrification retrofit and microgrid of older homes, to strengthen resiliency to power outages, improve indoor air quality, and empower residents to co-own their means of energy production.

The Regents of the University of California, Berkeley

Recipient

Berkeley, CA

Recipient Location

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$1,086,662

Amount Spent

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Active

Project Status

Project Update

The project team has conducted energy audits on 25 residences in a block in Oakland and has worked with PG&E to develop a rooftop solar plus central battery microgrid. The block homeowners have incorporated a nonprofit mutual benefit Association to co-own and manage the microgrid assets. In 2022, the recipient plans to finalize design and engineering plans, recruit Members to the Association, upgrade electrical systems, conduct electrification in homes, install the solar panels, and prepare for the installation of the large central battery.

The Issue

The majority of California’s frontline communities face rising energy costs, but are unable to afford retrofits and solar energy. Many live in older poorly insulated homes in areas with high air pollution, exacerbated by indoor air pollution from natural gas–fueled space heating, water heating and cooking equipment. The Oakland EcoBlock project represents an opportunity to demonstrate an energy and electrification retrofit on a block-scale to enable residents to collectively benefit from a shared, resilient, clean source of energy, rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve indoor air quality and thermal comfort, and reduce the energy burden of some of our most vulnerable and underserved communities.

Project Innovation

Leveraging economies of scale, the EcoBlock advances a new model for scaling Distributed Energy Resources (DER) in existing neighborhoods through block-scale retrofitting that combines energy efficiency retrofit strategies, integrated distributed energy generation systems, and water conservation and capture systems in a low-to-middle income neighborhood in the City of Oakland. This project is the second Phase of the EPIC Challenge: Accelerating the Deployment of Advanced Energy Communities. This project will implement the master plan developed in Phase I.

Project Goals

To test the technical, social, financial, and legal aspects of a community-owned microgrid and block-scale energy retrofit

Project Benefits

SB 350 sets a 50 percent renewable energy standard and a goal of doubling energy efficiency savings by 2030. Deploying customer-side of the meter technologies at scale will help meet this goal, but will require new innovations to how local jurisdictions design, plan, finance, and manage energy upgrades at the community level. This project is deploying sustainable financing structures, clear owner-operator responsibilities, and streamlined planning and permitting processes, which are critical to successfully deploying community-scale energy retrofits throughout the state.

Consumer Appeal

Consumer Appeal

By aggregating the required design, permitting, financing, and construction work across a block of homes, the EcoBlock concept reduces transaction costs, overcomes information barriers, and allows access to lower-cost financing.

Lower Costs

Affordability

By aggregating and collectively controlling the electrical load of an entire block allows the cost-effective construction of a microgrid with shared DERs that lowers capital costs and improves operational efficiency.

Greater Reliability

Reliability

Reduced electricity consumption and peak demand reduction, achieved by the energy retrofits, local storage, and the microgrid controller scheme proposed in this project, will avoid reliance on least-reliable generation sources.

Increase Safety

Safety

Consumers are safer when more appliances can be switched to locally generated power during grid outages. Removing natural gas fueled appliances will reduce indoor air pollutants.

Key Project Members

Project Member

Alexandra von Meier

Principal Investigator
UC Berkeley
Project Member

Therese Peffer

Project Manager
CIEE/CITRIS, UC Berkeley
Project Member

Subrecipients

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Integral Group, Inc.

Integral Group, Inc.

Sherwood Design Engineers, Ltd.

Sherwood Design Engineers, Ltd.

Microgrid Labs, Inc.

Microgrid Labs, Inc.

Rocket

Cathy Leonard

Contact the Team

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