About

Project Conception and Goals

The Oakland EcoBlock Project is a California Energy Commission-funded research project led by UC Berkeley. 

The EcoBlock concept was motivated by urgent societal questions and California legal mandates related to climate change and urban vulnerability:

  • How can we implement deep decarbonization in the most timely manner, without having to re-build a majority of housing and infrastructure?
  • Specifically, how can we best reduce the resource use and carbon footprint of buildings and vehicles?
  • How can essential services be provided to residents when the electric grid is disrupted?
  • How can such a major transition unfold in a modular, affordable way that includes all communities?
  • What law, policy, and financing mechanisms are needed to facilitate the project?

California legal mandates:

  • SB 100: 50% renewable energy by 2026, 100% renewable energy by 2045
  • SB 606: Water efficiency measures
  • AB 1668: Drought preparedness
  • SB 1339: Boost/streamlining microgrids

Current Landscape

  • 80.7% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas
  • 40% of U.S. GHG emissions emanate from buildings
  • Residential share of GHG emissions ≈ 53% of all total buildings

The EcoBlock concept recognizes the block as a common unit of organization in urban and suburban America – in fact, most cities in the world. Blocks come in different sizes and shapes, but the basic block structure appears in all places with moderate to high population density. The EcoBlock aims to harness that structure to make clean technology more affordable.

Conceptual Drawings

A conceptual drawing from Phase 1 of the EcoBlock project illustrates how solar PV from each rooftop could be connected in a communal microgrid that includes an energy storage facility and also supplies street lighting and electric vehicle charging. (work completed by Christine Scott Thomson, Senior Associate at Page/, as part of Phase I* of the Oakland EcoBlock (*project phase completed while at another firm, SOM))
Another conceptual drawing from Phase 1 illustrates how an individual home might be connected to the direct-current microgrid (orange), in addition to the existing PG&E utility service (red), and what energy and water efficiency measures might be included as retrofits. Not all of these features will be required for each home, but the combination of different technologies will help achieve better overall results. (work completed by Christine Scott Thomson, Senior Associate at Page/, as part of Phase I* of the Oakland EcoBlock (*project phase completed while at another firm, SOM))
Oakland EcoBlock Electrical Infrastructure (work completed by Christine Scott Thomson, Senior Associate at Page/, as part of Phase I* of the Oakland EcoBlock (*project phase completed while at another firm, SOM))

Home retrofits may include:

  • Rooftop solar PV
  • Convert gas to electric appliances
  • Energy upgrades
    • Insulation
    • Air sealing
    • LED lighting
  • Water efficiency and rainwater capture

Design Objectives

1. Decarbonization
While the EcoBlock microgrid will be connected to PG&E and able to import power, the goal is to have the perform at Zero Net Energy, using the grid only as a backup. Ideally, solar PV will supply residential electricity uses (those connected to the microgrid) and transportation.

2. Island Mode
The solar panels and storage components of the microgrid should be large enough to have a high probability of serving all microgrid demand for several days in case of a PG&E outage, and provide uninterrupted supply for high-priority, critical loads.

3. Ancillary Services
In the future, a microgrid like the EcoBlock may also be able to provide useful services to the electric utility in exchange for some payment. That approach would take dual advantage of the energy storage resource, which is primarily there to serve the microgrid, but which could also help the utility address technical issues (such as voltage problems caused by other, uncontrolled solar generation and electric vehicle chargers nearby). Creating opportunities and tariffs for these kinds of services from clean, distributed resources is a subject of study in the area of energy policy, and it’s another way to make solar power more affordable.

The City of Oakland is partnering with the EcoBlock team to address permitting and regulatory considerations.