Community engagement is a critical part of EcoBlock. How can EcoBlock enhance the livability of a community by enabling better communication among neighbors, improving security, and strengthening its resilience to natural or man-made crises? The Oakland EcoBlock brings together a group of neighboring residents and homeowners on an existing block to individually reduce energy and water consumption, eliminate natural gas use in their homes, and collectively share electrical energy and EV chargers from a solar-powered microgrid.
This community microgrid is one of the key components of the EcoBlock project and is also a feature that will rely most heavily on cooperation among the neighbors. The “community” part of community microgrid might refer to its end users (e.g., the group of people whom the microgrid’s energy serves), the people who manage the microgrid, or those who share the vision for a microgrid. For the Oakland EcoBlock, we mean all three: of the people, by the people and for the people!
Real-world human connection is crucial to any resilient and livable community. Neighbors can help each other during emergencies like earthquakes, power outages, or fires, pick up trash along the street, notice strange behavior, plant together, and share seeds or extra produce from each other’s garden. Humans evolved as altruistic members of a social group—not as individuals.
We learn from our neighbors. The first solar power systems spread in clusters. People bought solar panels because their neighbor had it; they could ask questions from a trusted source. Operating a microgrid together requires people to engage and share energy-saving behaviors to optimize its performance. These connections help build community, improve resilience, and enhance quality of life.
A unique feature of the Oakland EcoBlock is that the homeowners will collectively own the microgrid components: the rooftop solar panels, battery storage, microgrid controls, and curbside EV charger. Tuttle Law Group has reviewed a number of governance structures (e.g., Homeowners Association, Land Trust) and recommended a non-profit mutual benefit corporation, or an “Association.”
This Association will figure out the equitable allocation of solar credits as well as equitable distribution of Association fees to cover the shared insurance, operation, and maintenance costs. As a shared system, the solar panels will be placed on roofs that provide the best access or are easier to install solar; the fees should reflect the participants’ ability to pay as well as the amount of energy consumed. This Association governs block management and decision-making, and:
- Facilitates communication among members;
- Supports financing instruments;
- Interacts with contractors, government, and the public; and
- Creates a legal connection between the project and individual properties
The EcoBlock project will explore economies of scale in a whole-block approach compared to the current piecemeal one-house-at-a-time approach. The economies of scale include reduced soft costs in batch recruitment, conducting multiple home assessments, single truck rolls for implementing energy and water retrofits, bulk discount on appliance purchases, and sharing local generation and supply. An early analysis showed the incremental benefit of 5 to 20 households sharing a solar electric system and battery compared to each household having its own system.