If you read The Power Line regularly, you hear me talking a lot about distributed generation. Big words. Abstract concept.
With the current blackout (It is current, because there are still people in WV without power. The blackout is still very current for them.), tens of thousands of West Virginians found out exactly what distributed generation means.
For the last two weeks, a significant portion of WV’s electrical load, for at least the most critical functions, has been provided by gasoline generators, diesel generators, natural gas generators and solar arrays located at homes and businesses. THAT is distributed generation.
The problem in emergencies is that this emergency distributed generation suffers from a number of problems:
- Hydrocarbon fuels are expensive. Gasoline generator companies claim that their generators produce electricity for $.90 per kwh. That estimate is likely based on gas prices that are lower than current ones. I have neighbors who told me that they spent as much as $300 on fuel go get through the current blackout.
- In emergency situations, fuel supply is often unreliable. Right after a blackout happens, many gas stations are themselves without power. When they can pump gas, everyone is flocking to their stations, and they run out of fuel quickly.
- Generators of all kinds are noisy. A number of people have told me that running their generators all day just about drove them crazy from the constant noise.
- There are no automatic systems built into home and business electrical systems that isolate homes from the electrical grid. If homeowners forget to turn off their main breakers, repair people can be injured by generator power feeding back into power lines that they are trying to fix.
- When the emergency is over, people put their generators away and don’t use them again until the next blackout. They buy a piece of equipment that may spend years not providing any service, and may even deteriorate from not being run very often.
- People don’t plan very well for their critical needs during blackouts. Many just feed their generators into their breaker boxes with little thought to the capacity of the generator or the loads they will need to put on it. They just run their generator all day (at $1 per kwh), wasting money and gasoline. Other people run a maze of extension cords through their yards and houses, creating significant fire and shock hazards.
- At least one person has to remain near the generator, at least a couple of times a day, to feed gasoline or diesel fuel. This is not a problem with natural gas generators or generators with large fuel tanks, but most homeowners were tethered to their homes through much of the blackout for fear that their generators would run out of gas, or a breaker would shut down the machine, and no one would be home to fix the problem.
The fact is that we now have generation and electrical storage technologies that are available and affordable that eliminate all of these problems with the current state of emergency distributed generation. Homeowners and businesses all over WV have installed solar powered generating systems with battery back up banks that got them through the blackout safely, noiselessly and with little or no fuel cost. And, these solar based systems continue to generate power every day between emergencies.
In fact, we can build a whole electrical system, from the bottom up, based on distributed generation. Power companies in the US and WV have billions of dollar invested in obsolete, centralized grid technologies. These companies also control most of the regulatory environment in the US and WV and actively block the introduction of new distributed grid technologies and incentives to help people invest in their own generation systems.
I have had this link on The Power Line about microgrids based on distributed generation since 2009. Germany leads the world in advanced distributed generation technology. Germans are rapidly expanding locally developed power projects based on cooperatives, cogeneration, solar power and wind turbines. The growth of local generation in Germany, as well as strong government support, has led to the rapid development of microgrids and the technologies that support them.
Why can’t WV political leaders and the PSC wake up to the promotion of real reliability, instead of focusing on emergency response to blackouts every 3 years or so?
As WV’s state transmission and distribution systems (most of which are over 40 years old) continue to deteriorate, rates will continue to rise to pay for repairs, and the expenses of more frequent blackouts will mount. There has been no real response from the PSC or state government to stop this downward spiral. Their hands off approach to power reliability has been disastrous so far.
If you are sick and tired of waiting around for politicians to fix this problem, contact a WV solar power installer like PIMBY or MTV Solar or Alterra Renewable Energy. You will be surprised at how affordable your own system will be. You will have reliable electricity, and your “backup” system will produce power every day of the year. (Yes, solar panels produce power on cloudy days, too.)
You’ve been doing distributed generation already. Why not do it right?