Living With Public Safety Power Shutoffs

Living With Public Safety Power Shutoffs

PG&E, our local utility in Silicon Valley, caused a number of wildfires — including the recent Camp fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, killed 86 people and destroyed over 13,000 homes.The primary reason for this and other similar fires is that PG&E skimped on power line maintenance while enjoying record profits. Now they are bankrupt (again), and are scrambling to deal with the upcoming wild fire season.

Public Safety Power Shutoffs may happen far from fire danger areas. And these shutoffs could last for 48 hours or longer. So anyone relying on electricity for the necessities of life must prepare for an extended outage. Unfortunately, their recommendations ignore the cleanest, cheapest and safest backup power solution – solar and battery storage. Instead, PG&E recommends gas generators and stockpiling several days of fuel. Dumb idea to store all this extra fuel in fire-prone areas. Not to mention the challenges of connecting, starting and operating a gas generator safely.

Here is the letter that PG&E sent to my home:

Given the growing threat of extreme weather, we want all of our customers to be prepared for power outages. If elevated weather conditions, including potential fire risk, threaten a portion of the electric system serving your community, it will be necessary for us to turn off electricity in the interest of public safety. This is called a Public Safety Power Shutoff. We know how much our customers rely on electric service and want to work together to help you prepare for power outages.

A Public Safety Power Shutoff could impact any of our more than 5 million electric customers, including your home or business. Because elevated weather conditions can last several hours or days, we suggest preparing for outages that could last longer than 48 hours. Electric backup generators can keep the lights on, help appliances stay running, preserve perishable foods, and power essential equipment and electronics during a power outage.

Generators can also pose safety hazards, so it is important to understand how to safely operate your generator before an emergency occurs. This means doing regular safety checks and being sure you have enough fuel to last a few days.

As you can see from their letter above, PG&E recommends a gas generator for backup power (remember, the “G” in their name stands for “GAS”). No mention at all about using a cleaner, cheaper, quieter and safer battery backup system. Simple reason: they don’t want you to install solar or batteries since that reduces their revenue and profits. And if you buy an automatic natural gas generator they’ll make even more money selling you natural gas.

So Listen up to this week’s Energy Show as we discuss your options for dealing with these Public Safety Power Shutoffs — as well as considerations for selecting the best battery backup system to protect you and your family during these outages.

2020 Solar Policy Hindsight with Adam Browning

2020 Solar Policy Hindsight with Adam Browning

The United States is a representative democracy. Citizens vote for politicians who, theoretically, advocate for their needs: things like better healthcare, lower taxes, cleaner air, and new technologies such as solar. But one cannot check off the “solar” box on a voting ballot. Instead, we have to vote for elected officials whom we trust will work on solar policy on our behalf.

Vote Solar was founded in 2002 by Adam Browning and David Hochschild to bring solar into the mainstream by helping to shape solar policy. Among the policy wins that Vote Solar has achieved includes incentives (tax credits and rebates), modernizing our electric grid, expanding access to solar and storage technologies across all economic sectors, and advocating for solar + storage friendly electric rates.

Polls across the U.S. show that solar and renewable energy rate 90% and higher in the minds of voters . The challenge is turning that latent voting power into actual political power. Please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show as Adam Browning, Vote Solar’s Executive Director, explains how their advocacy efforts have achieved so many solar wins to date — along with the hard work we all have ahead of us as we make solar a mainstream energy source throughout the U.S.

Hidden Barriers to Building Electrification

Hidden Barriers to Building Electrification

Studies show that electrifying our transportation and building sectors are the fastest ways to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These sectors combined generate nearly 70% of total greenhouse gases in many states, including California.

Our country is making excellent progress in the transportation sector as electric vehicles replace conventional gas vehicles – which generate zero emissions when powered by solar- and wind-generated electricity. Since trucks and buses are larger, it will take a few more years before electrification of these vehicles becomes commonplace. Nevertheless, since average vehicles are on the road for about 10 years, it is entirely feasible to completely electrify California’s vehicles in 10 to 20 years. Without national leadership, this transition will take longer in the rest of the country.

25%of green house gas (GHG) emissions come from the building sector – mostly heating, cooling and lighting. When many buildings were constructed they were heated by fossil fuels, most commonly natural gas for both space heating and water heating. With new heat pump technology it is actually cheaper to heat and cool a building with electricity – resulting in zero GHG emissions if this electricity is generated by solar or wind. Other GHG savings measures — such as LED lighting, better windows and insulation, electric ovens, induction cooktops, and better building controls – are also relatively straightforward to implement.

For new construction, it is easy to build these more efficient and cost effective solutions in. But just in the state of California it will take 50+ years for the approximately 12 million existing single family homes 3 million apartments and 700,000 commercial buildings to completely change over to these new technologies.

Unfortunately, we don’t have 50 years to make this transition – more like 10-20 years if we want to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees C. On the surface, the key barrier to making this transition is the cost for new vehicles and the cost to retrofit existing buildings. New buildings are relatively easy since building electrification is actually cheaper than space and water heating with fossil fuels.

The real barrier to this transition in existing buildings is the stubborn and selfish attitude of incumbent fossil fuel industries. Architects, builders and contractors are happy to install appliances powered by electricity instead of natural gas. But fossil fuel providers, including gas utilities, oppose these electrification efforts at every opportunity. Just consider the extra costs your utility adds to upgrading your electric service and removing your natural gas connection. Please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show as we discuss solutions to removing these barriers to building electrification.

Electrifying Buildings with Jeff Byron

Electrifying Buildings with Jeff Byron

California was the first state to set aggressive goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Senate bill 32, AKA Cap and Trade, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. We are well on our way to meeting these goals, and happily a dozen other states are pursuing similar paths. In 2018 Governor Brown issued an executive order to go even further: achieving carbon neutrality by 2045 and negative greenhouse gas emissions afterwards. The Governor and Legislature have allocated more than $6 billion dollars — collected from the Cap and Trade Program — to fund the transition away from polluting fossil fuels.

Greenhouse gas emissions come from a variety of sources: 40.6% transportation, 25.8% industrial processes, 12.6% commercial (mostly buildings), 11.9% residential, and 9.2% from agricultural and forestry. As a result of previous policies, most significantly renewable portfolios standards, solar and wind — we have hit most of our goals in the electricity generating sector. Excellent progress is also being made in transportation, most notably with electric cars. California is also making progress in the commercial vehicle segment by incentivizing electric buses and trucks.

Nevertheless, almost 25% of our GHG emissions still come from buildings: natural gas for space heating, hot water heating, clothes washing and drying, cooking, and pool heating. New construction standards, both for commercial buildings and residences, will almost completely eliminate natural gas in new buildings. However, natural gas appliances are embedded in our existing homes and commercial buildings, and many of these buildings will be with us for another hundred years (if they are not under water by then).

It’s a big job to change out the appliances in our current building infrastructure. To learn more about these challenges and realistic solutions, please Listen Up to This Week’s Energy Show as we speak with Jeff Byron. Jeff served as the Commissioner at the California Energy Commission for 5 years and more recently a member of the Cleantech Open and Band of Angels. Jeff actually walks the talk, and currently lives in a net zero carbon emission home.

Politics of Energy and the Environment

Politics of Energy and the Environment

The 2020 presidential election has been in full swing for months, even though it’s still only 2019. Are things going faster as I get older, or are we in a constant stage of electioneering? Hmm, don’t answer that.

With one notable exception, all of the presidential candidates have positions on climate change – AKA Global Warming. President Trump’s position is basically to deny climate change, mock renewable energy, pull out of the Paris climate accords (signed by every other country in the world except the U.S. … perhaps they know something that we do not), brag about the U.S.’s oil production, and futilely try to resuscitate the coal industry. Sometimes I feel as if I’m watching the Twilight Zone on my parent’s Magnavox black and white TV.

The Green New Deal has been proposed by a number of Democratic members of Congress. This plan is aspirational – the Green part is what we really need to address climate change, but the New Deal part is painfully lacking in specifics and realistic funding mechanisms. Jay Inslee’s “Evergreen Economy for America” is a well thought out plan that has a chance to meet our global warming targets. Joe Biden’s “Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice” is a little more political than practical, and may not provide enough funding fast enough.

Listen Up to The Energy Show as we cover the politics of energy and the environment, ranging from the Trump administration’s environmental agenda (some would characterize this as oxymoronic), the Green New Deal, Jay Inslee’s Climate Plan, and what it will take for our next president to get us on the path of limiting global warming to 1.5 C.