New England island switching from primarily diesel fuel to solar + storage microgrid

Cuttyhunk solar array

Four hundred and fifteen years after hosting the first English trading settlement in New England, picturesque Cuttyhunk Island made new history this year, celebrating its first summer getting the majority of its electricity from a solar electric array that also charges an energy storage system for nighttime power.

Throughout the summer, the microgrid system, developed earlier this year by Solar Design Associates Inc. of Harvard, Mass., has provided the majority of the electricity for Cuttyhunk residents as well as summer boaters visiting its harbor. The combination of solar and storage provides more than 80 percent of off-season electricity as the summertime population of 300 shrinks to about 50 year-rounders.

The island, which has 174 electric meters, had previously relied solely on diesel-powered generation with fuel delivered by barge for all of its electricity. The new Cuttyhunk microgrid comprises 1,020 solar panels with maximum output of 351.9 kilowatts, plus 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electric storage in a bank of lithium-ion batteries. The project was supported by a U.S. Agriculture Department rural electrification grant.

Paul Elias, a member of the Gosnold Electric Light Commission that oversees the town-owned utility serving the island, said: “We’ve been delighted with the performance of the system Solar Design Associates engineered and installed, and they have been superb to work with. The microgrid’s performance and reliability have exceeded all our expectations, and we are on track to burn 30,000 fewer gallons of diesel fuel this year. That is an excellent benefit for the environment of this unique place and major cost savings for the community.”

Solar Design Associates president Steven J. Strong said: “Solar plus storage is clearly the next frontier for renewable energy, and the Cuttyhunk project validates the extraordinary benefits this innovative approach can deliver for cost, reliability, and sustainability at community scale.”

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SDA is currently developing a solar-plus-storage system for the Isle au Haut Electric Power Co. in Maine that is projected to provide 100 percent of its year-round electricity and eliminate its dependence on a 35-year-old undersea electric cable. Isle au Haut has 140 year-round and seasonal electric customers.

“While solar plus storage is an especially compelling approach for island communities dependent on high-cost diesel generators or costly-to-maintain cables, we’ve developed solar plus storage solutions for commercial, industrial, and utility customers as well,” Strong said. “We see enormous potential around the world for this transformational energy technology.’’

On Cuttyhunk, Solar Design Associates served as Engineer-of-Record for the project, providing design and engineering, procurement assistance, permitting support, construction management, and full system commissioning.

Cuttyhunk, 14 miles by sea from New Bedford, is the westernmost of the Elizabeth Islands that comprise the town of Gosnold, whose 75 inhabitants counted by the 2010 Census make it the least-populated town in Massachusetts. Gosnold is named for 17th century explorer Bartholomew Gosnold, whose crew set up a sassafras-harvesting outpost on Cuttyhunk in 1602 and the first known English trading post in New England.

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