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.
To slow the global warming trend, a number of states have committed to the aspirational goal of 100% carbon-free energy. As a species that literally evolved from burning wood and hydrocarbons, how can we possibly run our modern lives and economy without fossil fuels?
We can indeed achieve this transition quickly and economically. First, by converting all power generation to renewable, non-carbon sources. And second, by converting all fossil-fuel burning vehicles and appliances to electricity. Steady progress towards these conversions is being made. For example, 32% of California’s retail power came from renewable energy in 2018. The state is well on the way to converting to 100% renewable electricity. Use of EVs is growing steadily, and new building codes mandate the use of rooftop solar and electric appliances instead of natural gas.
The challenge is with the existing stock of residential and commercial buildings. Homes and businesses predominantly use natural gas for space heating, hot water heating and cooking. That’s where the concept of Whole House Electrification come in. Whole House Electrification is conceptually simple: replace gas appliances with electric appliances. In reality, one needs an energy audit to prioritize these conversions, then hire five different specialty contractors to do the work: insulation, solar, HVAC, plumbing, electrical and pool. It can be a daunting task.
Fortunately there are some pioneers out there – one of whom is my friend Howard Wenger. Howard was also a pioneer in the solar industry, with stints at AstroPower, PowerLight and SunPower. Please listen up to this week’s Energy Show as Howard discusses his experiences as he converted his house to 100% electricity, supplied — naturally — by solar.
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.
Our electric grid is one of the most complicated systems that has ever been built. We have confidence that our electrical system is generally meeting the needs of people throughout the U.S. — unlike our electoral and election systems, which are beset by hackers, hanging chads and foreign interference. Nevertheless, new technologies such as solar, wind, battery storage, EVs, control systems and software present opportunities to improve the effectiveness and reduce costs throughout our electrical grid.
Remember the EV1 – GMs experimental foray into electric vehicles? Although the EV1 was a failure in terms of mass market sales, it captured the imagination of both car and environmental enthusiasts. Tesla’s leadership has proven that EVs can indeed be a marketable product. Now, virtually every automaker has a selection of practical EVs and longer-range hybrids.
We’re starting to see the impact that the 2018 congressional elections had on clean energy. Although the House of Representatives is now in Democratic control, many of the energy policies of the Trump administration are likely to continue.
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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