Concerned about the likelihood of future public safety power shut-offs or PSPS in Southern California Edison areas over the next few years, Henry Greenberg recently spent over $5,000 installing a backup power system for his house near Simi Valley.
Operable on either natural gas or propane, a 22-kilowatt generator will power his whole house, using an auto transfer switch any time power is disrupted.
Ben Gallagher, an SCE spokesperson, tells customers considering backup power systems to also consider changes likely to result from SCE’s “hardening of the grid.”
SCE is insulating power lines in high-risk fire areas, including locations previously affected by PSPS four or more times. The company is also clearing trees to reduce the need for shut-offs.
Moreover, SCE has improved its high wind forecasting technology with over 1,000 weather stations and 161 high-definition cameras, and the utility installed switching devices to impact fewer customers when shutting circuits.
These changes are expected to bring areas of previous frequent outages closer to systemwide averages.
SCE has a big gap to close in Ventura County. SCE’s online “2020 PSPS Frequent Circuit List” shows parts of Ventura County had some of the most frequently affected circuits. Parts of Moorpark were shut 11 times in 2020; Santa Susana and the Simi Valley Hillsides eight times; Camarillo and Moorpark six times.
In contrast, Gallagher’s records show the average SCE customer had less than two power outages in 2019 due to all causes, and the shut-off totaled less than five hours.
“In Simi Valley and Moorpark, we predict the communities will see an 85% reduction in customer outage time from PSPS impacts across six circuits if we can complete the grid hardening work by October and considering the same weather conditions as last year,” said Gallagher.
The promise of less frequent shut-offs may keep some from buying backup power systems, but avoiding power loss is vital for other customers.
Some people rely on powered medical equipment or cannot draw water from a well without a powered pump. For these customers, SCE offers rebates of $50 to $500 for battery-based backup power systems and provides free backup batteries and solar panels to “income-eligible households” who depend on medical equipment for life-support purposes.
Similarly, many businesses and institutions cannot provide essential services without power and must rely on a backup system. Sometimes, a backup-power system can also enable cost savings.
The Ventura County Public Works Agency Water and Sanitation Department, for example, is installing a battery backup to avoid disruption in water and sewer services at the Moorpark Water Reclamation Facility.
With the additional installation of a smart microgrid, this new system, from PowerFlex, will not only provide energy during power outages by keeping a field of solar panels online, it will also reduce energy costs by allowing county public works operations to pull less energy off the public electricity grid when electricity is most expensive.
“The 750 kilowatt, 3,000 kilowatt-hour battery backup system and smart microgrid will store sustainable, solar energy, to be used during power outages and also during times when we would otherwise pay peak prices,” said Joe Pope, director of the Water and Sanitation Department of Ventura County Public Works.
The facility, providing sanitary sewer collection for the Moorpark area, currently features a 999 kW-rated solar panel field to power the plant; a 1,000 kW diesel generator to power the plant during emergency power outages; and an SCE power feed to provide power when solar is not available. Without the microgrid, the solar panels would turn off during an outage.
The nearly $2 million project used PowerFlex’s financing model, funded entirely by the California Public Utilities Commission’s Self-Generation Incentive Program’s Equity Resilience budget.
To secure full payment, the developer’s system must meet performance guarantees. The improvements are expected to save $355,400 over the 15-year life of the battery by reducing peak energy period power charges.
Denise Bean-White is the owner of Consortium Media, working under contract to the Ventura County Public Works Agency. David Goldstein, Ventura County Public Works Agency environmental analyst, may be reached at 805-658-4312 or email@example.com.