Best of the West: Microgrids develop throughout region; Utah universities fund computer science; Conservation Corps rehabilitate habitat in Arizona; New Mexican middle schooler wins prestigious award

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Nov. 1, 2021. (Photos courtesy of Stephen Martin and Jake Bacon)

With power outages occurring throughout the entire region, many western communities have begun developing microgrids, self-sufficient energy systems made up of one or more kinds of distributed energy (solar panels, wind turbines, combined heat and power, among others) and some form of energy storage that allows utilities to draw on its power in the case of emergencies to increase the grid’s reliability.   

According to a new study from Guidehouse Insights, microgrid spending in the commercial and industrial market is expected to surpass $10 billion by 2030, a five-fold increase from 2021 with the potential to generate 7,000 megawatts by 2030. 

A newly-deployed military microgrid in the city of Dallas, Oregon was developed to provide power to the Colonel Nesmith Readiness Center and community members for up to 14 days during outages. The Yucaipa Valley Water District in California also approved a customized microgrid project to improve its water-energy nexus at two of its most critical locations. As utilities look to install microgrids, the North Dakota Industrial Commission approved a pilot hydrogen microgrid that is modular and fully scalable, so it can work with different sized operations. The system will turn excess energy into hydrogen, storing it in a local tank that will hold enough hydrogen for one week of standby power. 

Utilities, however, are only a part of the equation. Entire neighborhoods and even small towns are also developing microgrids. Portland General Electric in Oregon launched pilot programs that deploy batteries behind the meter at customer sites and a residential pilot program under which customers buy batteries — in some cases, at a discount — that can be aggregated and utilized by the utility.  A similar residential program is being offered by Hawaii Electric.

Red Feather Lakes, a small mountain town in Colorado developed a microgrid capable of supporting the entire town for eight hours or more when portions of the grid are temporarily unavailable, supporting critical resources like fire response, emergency medical services, shelter, broadband, telecoms, food, fuel, and water. Similar solar microgrid projects are being developed by Kotzebue Electric Association that serves a rural community in Alaska, 30-miles north of the Arctic Circle, in Pacific Palisades, California and in Utah. Even a few Chick-fil-A locations are installing a solar microgrids.

COMPUTER SCIENCE FUNDING: The University of Utah announced that it received a $15 million donation as the starting funds to construct a $120 million building to house computer science students, giving them their own space for the first time since the university connected to the ARPANET in 1969 and helped develop the internet. Utah Valley University also received $25 million to build a new engineering building on its campus in Orem. "It’s an exciting time to be in engineering and computer science in Utah,” said Richard Brown, dean of the Univerity of Utah's College of Engineering. Learn more about regional strategies for solving workforce shortages in STEM industries by listening to 'Diversifying the Cybersecurity Workforce' a new episode of WGA's 'Out West' podcast. 

MITIGATING VISITOR IMPACTS: Members of the Arizona Conservation Corps recently completed the second phase of a project to rehabilitate areas of Oak Creek Canyon that have been hit hard by visitors, including improving water quality in the creek and protecting habitat for the threatened narrow-headed garter snake. Learn more about how western communities are working to mitigate the impacts of tourism at WGA’s Working Lands, Working Communities Initiative workshops

EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME: The Tripadvisor 2021 Travelers' Choice awards have been announced and one Colorado experience was recognized as the 10th “top overall experiences” in the World alongside the likes of a jet ski tour of Dubai, whitewater rafting the Kaituna River in New Zealand and hang gliding in Brazil. Read more to see which Colorado attraction made the list

GREAT NEW MEXICAN MIND: Akilan Sankaran, a 14-year-old from New Mexico, recently won the Samueli Foundation Prize, the top award in the Broadcom MASTERS, a highly competitive science and engineering competition for middle school students nationwide. His project developed a program that calculates antiprime numbers over 1,000 digits and discovered a new class of functions to analyze those numbers' divisibility, allowing popular software and apps to run more quickly. 

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