California Power Outages Have People Across The Country Questioning Their Dependence On Electric Companies

California Power Outages Have People Across The Country Questioning Their Dependence On Electric Companies

Last week, the country’s largest utility company cut power for nearly a million people living in Northern California. PG&E stated that the purpose of the intentional outage was to prevent the risk of sparking a wildfire in Northern California, during a period of extremely high fire risk. This preventative measure left 800,000 people without power for days, and without any clear timetable about when power would return. This situation highlights several challenges associated with the existing grid infrastructure, and as a result, people across the country are nervous about their own utility’s shortcomings.

PG&E’s fears about sparking a wildfire are not unfounded. The utility was found to be responsible for the 2017 California Camp Fire, for which PG&E agreed to pay $11 billion in damages. Tragically, 79 people lost their lives in the fire. The blaze was created by a fault in a damaged transmission line, and the fire proved to be one of the most devastating wildfires in national history. The massive financial penalty ultimately resulted in a bankruptcy filing for the massive electric company. Now, the utility is saying that high winds in the Northern California area are leading to extremely high fire risk, and so they’ve determined that de-energizing parts of the grid in 22 counties is the safest bet to prevent another wildfire.

This move by PG&E has surprised many. It’s understandable that the company would want to avoid another tragic fire, not to mention the enormous $11 billion penalties. However, to cut off the power for 800,000 people is an extreme measure. Not only were so many people inconvenienced by not having power, but the affected area has lost billions of dollars in revenue due to the shutoff. At least one person has been reported dead after critical medical equipment was left without a power supply.

As one local business owner put it: “I understand why they did this, to a point, but to inconvenience 800,000 residents, I think it’s a little excessive. It’s costing this state billions in lost revenue and people are losing food, people are losing revenue for not being able to work. It’s devastating, it’s third world country-ish.”

The outage highlights several vulnerabilities in our existing electricity system. First and foremost, the reliability of the grid comes to mind. It’s a scary prospect to not have a steady supply of power when we need it. Not only does electricity allow for conveniences like TV and lighting, but it also supports more crucial applications, like food storage. Think of all the food that was wasted after 800,000 people were left without power for days. That alone can constitute a big loss for a household. Unless a house has a backup power option like a generator or a solar-powered battery, the occupants will be vulnerable to numerous negative effects caused by power outages.

Another concerning aspect of this ordeal is that it demonstrates the fragility of our existing grid. Much of the equipment and transmission lines are aging and in need of replacement. That need is highlighted by events like the Camp Fire. When utilities need to make massive investments to upgrade their infrastructure, they have no other place to turn besides their ratepayers. As a result, grid maintenance and repair costs ultimately fall to utility customers. This contributes to rising electricity bills, in addition to other factors such as fuel prices and availability.

These outages are a scary idea, whether you live in California or not. In this case, the blackouts were a planned tactic from the utility to prevent a wildfire. However, similar outages could be caused by a wide variety of other factors. Severe storms, earthquakes, or even terrorist attacks could produce similar situations anywhere across the country. It’s quite scary to think that while we enjoy a steady supply of power right now, it’s entirely possible that something outside of our control could interrupt that supply.

One bright spot in this particular story is the presence of energy storage in California. The state has the 2nd highest penetration of residential solar + battery systems, behind Hawaii. Thanks to their residential energy storage systems, many of those affected by the blackouts still could rely on their backup power supply within their own homes. These systems are typically only designed to provide backup power for a few selected circuits, such as refrigerators, freezers, and medical equipment. In situations like this extended outage, that backup power can be the difference between losing hundreds of dollars in spoiled food, and in some cases, it could even be the difference between life and death. With stakes as high as these, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing a nationwide surge in the installations of home energy storage systems.

As the climate changes these extreme events seem to become more and more common. However, with the adoption of cutting edge technologies like these, we can at least insulate ourselves from some of the risks of blackouts.

What Can A Solar System Do For My Business?

What Can A Solar System Do For My Business?

Can you think of any businesses that don’t need electricity to operate? My list starts with “barbershop quartet” and ends with “child’s lemonade stand”. It’s pretty shortlisted. Electricity is a crucial requirement of almost any business, and its one that you can safely bet isn’t going away anytime soon. Businesses use much more electricity than homes, and the costs can add up quickly each month. It would be great if your business didn’t have to depend on electricity to function, but that’s just not in the cards. Once you recognize that your electricity needs are here to stay, the next question becomes: “If we can’t eliminate our power needs entirely, can we eliminate or reduce our energy costs?”

That’s why so many businesses are turning to solar energy as a means of controlling their energy costs. This trend is expected to continue, despite the fact that the Federal Investment Tax Credit for solar systems is set to begin its decline in 2020. Outlined below are some of the top reasons why commercial solar is a great investment for businesses.

Cost

  • Electricity can be a big expense for businesses. With a solar system, businesses can compartmentalize their energy costs and make them more predictable. This is achievable through financing options that spread out the cost of the system over a fixed period of time, thereby stabilizing electricity costs. Unlike volatile utility prices that can be raised year after year, solar financing allows companies to forecast their energy costs for decades out.
  • Of course, the percentage of a company’s power usage that can be offset with solar depends on the available space. Even if a business can’t get all the way to 100% offset, any solar power at all can help shave down the sum of the utility bill. 
  • In many places throughout the US, switching to solar can actually save businesses money on their energy costs from day one. This is because the cost of installing solar has dropped so much, that solar power can actually cost less than utility power in some areas.

Boosted Building Value

  • Adding a solar system means adding a physical asset to your building. Like any other asset or renovation, a solar system increases the appraisal value of a building. 
  • Not only can you increase the value of your building with solar, but with enough solar panels, you can actually become a net exporter. That means that you’ll produce more electricity than you use, for which you’ll be paid by the utility. Of course, this is only a possibility if there’s enough space available to offset your business’ usage first.

Branding

  • When your business converts to renewable energy, you can leverage your new green identity with your customers. Many consumers appreciate environmentally responsible companies. By switching to solar energy, you can signal to your customer base that your business is a forward-thinking one.

ITC Ending

  • One of the reasons solar has become so competitive with other energy sources is the ITC (Investment Tax Credit). The ITC is a mechanism intended to promote the adoption of solar energy. It was originally proposed over 10 years ago, and it’s already been extended once.
  • The Tax Credit is good for 30% of the cost of a solar system for the rest of 2019. Then in 2020, the value of the ITC drops to 26%. The next year, it will decline further to 22%. By 2022, the ITC for commercial solar projects will settle at 10%, where it is expected to remain. For residential solar, the ITC will be eliminated entirely in 2022.