ISO Cites Residential Risk of No Backup Power Generation

According to Onell Soto, nearly a million people had their power cut by San Diego Gas and Electric Company (SDG&E) early yesterday to avoid "an uncontrolled West Coast blackout" that could have cascaded well beyond the County of San Diego.

Soto's San Diego Union-Tribune article stated that the California Independent System Operator (ISO) ordered SDG&E to cut power to about 1 out of every 5 customers after too many power plants in SDG&E's service area had either been shut down for maintenance or simply failed.

ISO spokesperson Gregg Fishman reported "If you rely solely on the transmission grid, you don't have any alternatives." As for the scheduling of power plants shut down for maintenance and the coincidence of one additional plant failing, Fishman stated "We [ISO officials] are taking this very seriously. We need to do more fact-finding before we can draw any conclusions."

According to future SDG&E president Michael Niggli, there was no choice for SDG&E except to obey the ISO shut-down order that temporarily dropped county consumption by about 310 megawatts.

This blogger has repeatedly warned SDG&E consumers that total dependence on the local power grid for all power needs is no answer when the grid fails as it did earlier this week. It is vitally important as a home emergency response measure to have at least some backup power generation and storage capacity. Fortunately, SDG&E's late-night grid de-energization did not affect patients in local hospitals this time.

For about than $1000, SDG&E residential customers can set up an off-grid solar panel system capable of generating 135 watts or more, more than enough to light an entire house equipped with low-wattage CFL bulbs. For roughly $1K, it's better than sitting home alone in the dark.

In a sustained major power outage, the National Response Framework suggests that homeowners might go days or longer without power being restored.

In other news, Kyocera recently announced plans to begin manufacturing solar panels here in San Diego, a factor that should contribute to increased availability at lower prices for the means of generating alternative energy at the household level, without paying anything for the solar energy used or stored.

As for homeowners contemplating grid-connected solar panels, SDG&E has a warning in its most recent California Public Utilities Commission net-metering application for any SDG&E customer who installs grid-connected solar panels and then expects to be reimbursed yearly for excess power taken by SDG&E. Those customers with grid-connected solar panels must first file a self-certification application as a Qualifying Facility (QF) with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) before SDG&E will bother considering that customer's application for net energy metering with potential subsequent reimbursement.

Compounding this mess are recent reports that SDG&E smart meters are vulnerable to hacking, leading to improper billing or possible malicious shutdown.

This blogger suspects that hacked or not, most homeowners do not want to file the same Form 556 FERC application as a multi-megawatt windmill farm operator.

Summing this up, we can see that having off-grid solar panels provides at least some protection from potential grid SNAFU, while grid-connected solar panels either means feeding SDG&E your excess electricity for free or doing a mountain of federal regulatory paperwork just to earn yourself a QF docket number for future FERC consideration.

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