Here at home we’ll play in the city
Powered by the sun
Perfect weather for a streamlined world
There’ll be spandex jackets one for everyone
– “IGY,” by Donald Fagen
Solano Avenue heads west from Maxwell Farms Regional Park toward Sonoma Mountain, through a rural residential neighborhood with fewer and fewer houses. Where it ends, a gate blocks the entrance to a 16-acre estate, lined by stone fencing dating from its days as a sheep ranch.
What’s behind the gate now is nothing less than the future: an energy self-sustaining “island” of seven solar arrays, at least four types of storage batteries, a utility-grade computer controlling system, even an electrolyzer to split water into its component parts, hydrogen to supply power and oxygen to... well, to breathe.
Welcome to SEFMG, or the Stone Edge Farm Micro Grid.
Recently a 25-person delegation of solar engineers and policy wonks from the InterSolar North America Conference in San Francisco, a networking event that drew about 10,000 people from around the world, bussed up to Sonoma to tour the estate, on the promise of an opportunity to see a solar winery.
But they got a lot more than that: a two-hour tour of a state-of-the-art energy microgrid, one capable not only of drawing from the regional power grid that supplies energy to homes, businesses, factories – everything that runs on electricity, which is just about everything – but of supplying energy back to the grid… and doing both simultaneously.
Or, if the situation requires it, to self-supply and regulate its own power needs, to become an “island” in the sea of energy.
“Moving distributed energy forward, one microgrid at a time,” boasted the display backdrop at InterSolar. Though it’s an integrated collaboration of several vendors – ESS and Enphase and Aquion and DC Systems, even Tesla (the sexiest brand name of the bunch) – it’s driven by John “Mac” McQuown. Now in his early 80s, McQuown is a former Wells Fargo Bank investment director who led the development of the index fund model – but even in retirement he continues his engagement in remaking the world.
He and his wife Leslie moved to the Sonoma Valley about 20 year ago, attracted by the 400-year-old trees on the then-remote sheep ranch, and the deep connection with the land they promised. They took over the property, and added a couple neighboring lots to it, to create Stone Edge Farm. It now sustains heirloom vegetables, olive groves, fruit trees, ornamental plants, herbs, chickens, even beehives.
In 2004, they started developing a sustainable vineyard on the property, under the direction of organic vineyard pioneer Phil Coturri and winemaker Jeffrey Baker; Stone Edge Wines rapidly elevated to a world-class organic winery – its low-production, Bordeaux-driven wines sought-after and valued. The winery even has its own private restaurant, Edge, on East Napa Street, presided over by award-winning chef John McReynolds.
Clearly, the McQuowns don’t do things in half-measures.
Just over three years ago, concerned about climate change, they decided to reduce the carbon footprint of Stone Edge Farms as low as possible, vowing to cut it by half in three years – a goal they met in a single year. Now, they are within reach of getting not just to zero emissions, but even into negative territory. Like the old limbo rock song went, “How low can you go?”