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.

Technical Advisory Committee

Building Retrofits: Andrew Brooks

Founder, Association for Energy Affordability (AEA)

Andy leads the AEA West Coast regional office. Under his guidance, the California office has helped design and administer multifamily energy efficiency programs for organizations like the Bay Area Regional Energy Network (BayREN) and Southern California Edison (SCE). Andy has participated in several energy-efficiency technical committees, including EPA Region 9’s Multifamily Home Energy Retrofit Coordinating Committee.

Electric Utility Interface: Eunice Garcia

Sr. Manager, Strategic Integration & Ops

Eunice has over a decade of experience in account management and customer service and has a proven talent for building strategic relationships with governments, partners and communities particularly in the area of sustainable communities. In particular, she oversaw the establishment of the East Bay Environmental network (EBEN), an alliance between 15 universities, businesses and governments across the greater East Bay.

Business Model & Strategy: Keiichi Hirose

Technical Officer, New Energy & Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO)

Dr. Keiichi Hirose is a Technical officer of NEDO Smart Community Department, and is engaged in solutions for mass introduction of distributed energy, effective use of storage systems, demonstration of advanced microgrid, etc., in order to solve future energy-related issues. He has contributed information and lessons obtained from his years in the telecom industry at NTT on topics including state-of-the-art technologies, mixed AC-DC power facilities, and natural disaster measurements, etc.

Building Department: Greg Mahoney

Chair, California Building Standards Commission Code Advisory for Green Buildings

Vice Chair, Code Council’s G4 Guideline for Commissioning Committee

Greg has 30 years of building code enforcement experience. He has taught Inspection Technology and Green Building at Consumnes River College for 14 years and also teaches the California Residential Code, California Building Code and CALGreen as a Code Council Instructor. In 2016, Greg was the recipient of theCalifornia Building Official’s (CALBO) Building Official of the Year award.

Business Model & Strategy: JP Ross

Senior Director, East Bay Community Energy (EBCE)

JP leads EBCE’s local development and innovation programs to deliverbenefits to residents and businesses in Alameda County. He has actively engaged with solar market development and commercialization since 1999 and has worked with organizations like Greenpeace, Vote Solar, and Origin Energy. JP specializes in building teams, P&L management, market expansions, product and business development and developing channels.

Behavioral: Angela Sanguinetti

Research Environmental Psychologist

Director, Cohousing Research Network

Dr. Sanguinetti is a Research Environmental Psychologist at UC Davis Energy and EfficiencyInstitute and Institute of Transportation Studies. Her research interests center on how the design of the built environment impacts our behavior and well-being. She directs the UCDavis Consumer Energy Interfaces Lab and brings her behavioral expertise to projects with organizations like the Energy & Efficiency Institute.

Electric Utility Interface: Bill Torre

Program Director, Energy Storage & Systems, UCSD Center for Energy Research

Bill has worked in the power and energy engineering industry for 40 years. Currently, he is involved indeveloping advanced power system controls and data acquisition for micro-grid applications,including phasor measurement units. His energy research also involves electric transportationand utilization of automated demand response and vehicle-to-grid control tooptimize overall micro-grid operation and efficiency.

Financial: Chad White

Program Lead, New Climate Initiatives, Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD)

Chad oversees the New Climate Initiatives program at BAAQMD. Under his leadership, the program has launched and grown their use of financial products and partnerships to accelerate climate technology. Chad has a demonstrated history of managing various sustainability projects in strategy implementation, organization development, and product design. He also has experience with projects in the manufacturing, consumer products, food and agriculture, emerging tech, and recycling sectors.

Business Model & Strategy: Greg Wolfson

Head of Technology & Analysis, Shell Connected Energy

Chief Technology Officer, EcoSmart Solution (ESS)

Greg is currently the Head of Technology and Analysis for Shell Connected Energy, which connects Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) to provide cleaner, more cost-effective and resilient energy for end-use clients. Previously, Greg led the development, launch, and commercialization of the AC Battery at Enphase Energy and in 2009, helped found PMFG Solar, a commercial solar developer based in Southern California.

Microgrid Governance: Jim Zoellick

Managing Research Engineer, Schatz Energy Research Center

Jim provides extensive experience in planning, analysis, project development and implementation, with a focus on tribal and public sector projects in rural northern California.He led the development of the RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan and has directed planning studies for the development of electric vehicle charging infrastructure throughout rural northern California. Most recently, Jim has worked to develop, deploy and evaluate cutting-edge microgrid technology.