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.
California utility companies recently announced their Public Safety Power Shutoff programs across the state. Bloomberg News said “California May Go Dark This Summer and Most People Aren’t Ready.” California’s Governor Gavin Newsom was quoted as saying “I’m worried. We are all worried about it for the elderly. We are worried about it because we can see people’s power turned off for not just for a day or two but potentially for a week.”
These public safety power shutoff events are already happening around the state. Utilities turn off the power if there is the possibility of danger imposed by things such as high winds or wildfire, dry vegetation, low humidity, observations of dangerous conditions by field personnel and red flag warnings from the National Weather Service. The Paradise fire in 2018 was started when PG&E decided NOT to shut power off in a fire prone area. Now all utilities are erring on the side of caution, shutting off power when there may only be a remote chance of a fire – certainly better than burning down a town.
Unfortunately, looking back over the past fifty years, the reliability of our power grid is not getting better. The weather is getting hotter, there is more housing in forested areas, we need electricity more than ever, and some utilities have been skimping on maintenance to maximize their profits. Electricity has become the most important fuel for our society. So when the lights go out, our 21st century lifestyle reverts to the19th century.
To learn more about these Public Safety Power Shutoff programs, what the utility companies suggest (buy a gas generator!), plus better solutions (hint: solar with battery backup), Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show.
Upcoming electric rate changes mean that almost every home and business will eventually benefit from a battery connected to their solar system. These combined systems provide tangible economic benefits: time shifting energy use, energy arbitrage, preserving the benefits of net metering and demand charge reduction.
In a nutshell, battery storage systems help preserve the benefits of net metering. But because of the grid’s unreliability — coupled with upcoming Public Service Power Shutoffs in California — the vast majority of our residential customers are installing battery storage systems for backup power.
As our company got back into the energy storage business with lithium ion batteries, we did extensive research into battery systems and their compatible inverters, into manufacturers, into software and operating modes, and into the interconnection and incentive process. After almost two years of selling and installing battery storage systems we’ve gained a lot of wisdom — and made some mistakes along the way. To help our fellow contractors and our future customers, here are ten of our most systemic and painful battery storage installation mistakes:
1. Misunderstanding customer desires 2. Incomplete product offerings 3. Underestimating support and maintenance costs 4. Adding batteries to existing systems 5. If the CTs don’t fit, you’re in deep sh-t 6. Complicated backup panel wiring 7. Buggy software and firmware 8. Interconnection problems 9. Incentive delays 10. Battery warranty claims
For more insights into avoiding battery storage installation mistakes, please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show.
In the early days of solar and storage, virtually every system used lead acid batteries to store daytime energy and use this energy at night. Although these systems functioned well, they required a lot of maintenance (you can tell old-time battery installers from the acid burns in their jeans), were quite heavy, had complicated control systems and had limited lifetimes. Net metering alleviated the need for battery storage. But now with changes in net metering, Time of Use (TOU) rates and poor grid reliability, batteries are experiencing a resurgence.
Part of the reason for this battery comeback is that new lithium ion battery storage systems overcome almost all the disadvantages of lead acid systems (they are still somewhat expensive). These systems are designed to be installed next to your solar inverter, have integrated battery management and control systems, and require no maintenance over their guaranteed 10 year lifespans.
Utilities are moving their peak electric rates from mid day to the late afternoon and evening when the sun doesn’t shine. With battery storage, customers can time-shift their energy use — running their homes and businesses from stored energy in their battery, and replenishing that battery the next day when the sun is shining. Many of these battery systems can also provide backup power during a grid outage — or one of the “Planned Power Outages” that utilities implement to prevent power line-caused fires.
The best news is that many states, including California, provide rebates to reduce the costs of battery storage systems. Please tune in to this week’s Energy Show as Josh Weiner from Sepi Solar joins us to explain the codes and standards that apply to the installation of energy storage systems.
You know what they say: “Video killed the radio star.” Well I’m going out on a limb and adding video to this week’s podcast. But since my fans say I have a perfect face for radio, I’m not worried that this video podcast will affect my Arbitron ratings. Nevertheless, my guests on this video podcast are much more telegenic, so I encourage you to click through to this video link. (more…)
It’s depressing that lithium batteries get almost all of the focus in the energy storage industry. Lithium batteries have a number of advantages, including high energy density, good longevity, declining costs and established integration with electronics, vehicles and stationary energy storage. Although ideal for residential and commercial storage applications, lithium ion chemistries are not great for long term and high capacity energy storage — which are the characteristics that many utility storage installations require. (more…)
Barry Cinnamon has been blogging about the Solar Industry since 2007.
Barry hosts The Energy Show, a weekly 30 minute talk show that runs every Saturday at 1:30 PM on KDOW Radio AM in San Jose California.
Every week Barry provides practical money-saving tips on ways to reduce your home and business energy consumption.
Barry Cinnamon heads up Cinnamon Solar (a San Jose residential and commercial solar and energy storage contractor) and Spice Solar (suppliers of built-in solar racking technology). After 10,000+ installations at Akeena Solar and Westinghouse Solar, he’s developed a pretty good perspective on the real-world economics of rooftop solar — as well as the best products and services for homeowners, manufacturers and installers. His rooftop tinkering led to the development of integrated racking (released in 2007), AC solar modules (released in 2009), and Spice Solar (the fastest way to install rooftop solar modules).
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