Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Power When the Grid Goes Down

Power lines downed by storms are an all-too-familiar sight lately. Wikimedia Commons

Power lines downed by storms are an all-too-familiar sight lately. Wikimedia Commons

By Nancy Rae Mallery

If you have, or plan to have, a solar photovoltaic system, it is important that you address the question of what will happen when the grid fails. Without planning specifically for grid failure, most net-metered systems will not produce power when the grid is down.

The recent power outages in both Vermont and New Hampshire from high winds and heavy rains have reminded many of us of how vulnerable we are. Hurricane Irene showed us we do not have to live near the ocean to lose power. Numerous ice storms and blizzards have underscored that fact.

In my neighborhood of Bradford, Vermont, neighbors had to put in emergency generators to just keep their food cooled, to be able to use their heaters and cook, and run a few lights – and the generators filled the neighborhood with noise and pollution. Many did not have enough power from the generators to provide water to drink and flush toilets. Some families were prepared, but not all, for an outage that lasted for over four days. It was worse for some residents of Bath, New Hampshire, where the outage lasted another week and more.

Generators which burn fossil fuels certainly helped some people, but most people feel that living with noise and pollution can quickly get difficult. Generators also depend on fuel availability. In a bad storm, the roads could be cut off, making getting fuel difficult. If supply trucks cannot get through, no one has fuel.

In Houston, things are still not back to the old normal. Parts of Puerto Rico might have electric outages lasting over a year. This year, there were four record-breaking hurricanes in eight weeks. We are moving into a new normal. Climate change is happening, and resulting storms will increasingly shut us down.

As we move into at time of increasingly bad storms, things are expected to be worse in the Northeast, according to researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. (See the Green Energy Times article of February, 2017, Climate Research News from UMass,

Through the recent storm, the home office of Green Energy Times continued working on its battery-backed, off-grid solar system without pause. Neighbors with solar power and gasoline generators came by to get water for drinking and cooking, because their systems could not power their pumps.

For a person with solar power, a battery backup system does represent an additional cost, but it is not necessarily high. Checking available incentives, including those from power companies, may be very helpful. For example, Green Mountain Power offers a special program that makes it possible for customers to lease Tesla Powerwall batteries for only $15 per month.

We would not suggest that people should rely entirely on solar power and batteries. A good solar system includes a generator for emergencies. But with solar power and batteries, emergencies come more rarely. I have one, and I run it periodically to make sure it is always ready. But I have also gone for periods lasting years without any power interruptions.

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