Since their beginnings, casinos have been a great way for players to have fun all over the world. But casinos often consume a lot of energy, creating a need for greener power sourcing.
Of course one good option to protect the planet is to play on mobile casinos instead of at land-based ones. By suppressing the need for transportation, you eliminate your greenhouse gas emissions, while the dematerialized casino reduces material consumption (no building, no air-conditioning…).
Another way to green-gamble is to play in Blue Lake Ranchiera’s casino. The Northern Californian tribal land is now a pioneer in independent power production and unless you go there by plane, your carbon footprint will thank you.
Why did the casino install a microgrid?
In the past few years, the number of natural disasters has been rising, going from 5 recorded natural disasters in 1900 to 133 in 1980, and a staggering 380 in 2015 (see graph below). And if you don’t find these numbers high enough, you should consider that they only include natural disasters such as drought, floods, wildfires, volcanic activities and earthquakes and don’t take into consideration man-made catastrophes.
If you add human-related disasters, such as industrial accidents (e.g. oil spills), transportation accidents (e.g. railroads accidents) and nuclear & chemical disasters (Chernobyl, Fukushima…) these numbers reach staggering heights.
The thing is, these catastrophes usually trigger many other dangerous situations that are hard to respond in the midst of a crisis. They can, for example, cause the roads to be inaccessible, cause the need for emergency sheltering, or disconnect the local communities from the power grid.
In 2011, while Japan was dealing with the aftermath of Fukushima’s Tsunami and Daiichi’s nuclear disaster, the Blue Lake Rancheria was dealing with its own emergency: over 3000 coastal residents fled to the Northern Californian tribal land to escape a feared potential second tsunami.
In the end, California was lucky and the inundations were minimal but the situation acted as an eye-opener to the Blue Lake Rancheria’s resident. Realizing that they would probably be cut off the grid if a catastrophe were to happen, they decided to take measures to become almost independent energy-wise.
In order to do so, they had the idea of developing their own microgrid, powered by solar panels, that would allow them to be disconnected from the central power grid for days or even weeks in the event of a disaster.
What is a microgrid and what are its benefits?
The simple way to describe a microgrid is by defining it as “a compressed version of the larger power grid that powers the country”1. Its aim is to supply electricity, in the same way than bigger grids, but only to a couple of buildings or local communities.
While all microgrids do not generate enough electricity to be completely independent of the central grid, they create enough to have great benefits for society. And, as we said earlier, they are a great way to provide emergency electricity to local communities or buildings, such as hospitals, in the case of a crisis.
There’s also another advantage we haven’t yet mentioned: clean energy. Today, as we are trying to move away from fossil-fueled energy plants, we are looking more and more into the development of renewable electricity.
Blue Lake Rancheria’s, for example, now uses a solar-powered microgrid to power its six building, including their 55,000 square-foot casino and the event center that doubles up as a certified American Red Cross emergency shelter. The grid, which produces between 120 kilowatts on a cloudy day and 420 kW on a sunny one, has already allowed the community to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 159 tons. By the end of the commissioning, they hope to reduce their GHG by an additional 22 tones.
The project’s final benefit is a financial one. While the project’s cost was pretty high (about $6.3 million so far), it’s already saving the tribal community around $195.000 in energy cost annually.
How do you build a microgrid and how does it work?
By now, you might be thinking: okay, that’s all good, but how do you build an independent solar-powered microgrid?
Maybe it’s as simple as planting a solar panel in your backyard and plugging it into your garage outlet?
Well, not exactly. But if we were to simplify the process of building and running a microgrid, here’s how we would explain it.
1. You need a Power Source
First things first, you need to have a component that will produce electricity such as solar panels. This power source capacity can be adjusted to the need of the community/ organization. A non-negligible aspect to consider is the maintenance of the power source: solar panels for example usually release a lot of moisture that can deeply impact their performance.
2. You need a Power Management System
This system is what handles the power and converts it to the form required by most electrical machines. Nowadays, microgrids usually incorporate an integrated software and control system to manage grid operations.
3. You need Energy Storage System
This is what allows the surplus electricity to be stored when demand is low. In Blue Lake Ranchiera for example, they installed Tesla’s battery pack to store energy for cloudy days.
4. You need Electricity Consuming Devices
This might seem obvious but all this energy needs to be used for something. In the Tribal community, the electricity is used to power infrastructures such as the restaurants, the hotel, the casino, the event center but also the lighting and security and finally the water and wastewater system.
As the technology is still pretty new, creating a microgrid infrastructure is still very costly. But we are hoping that the pioneer action to become energetically independent is one that will show other infrastructures the way to a cleaner and safer energy production model.