Trees, Climate Change and Surging Power Outages

Monday night’s premiere episode of “The Neighborhood” bore the title “Goodbye Grid Day” as the Johnson family goes solar, and ends up with the only electricity still on, after the grid goes down in the rest of the neighborhood. Clever show!

Season 5, Episode 1

While it wasn’t mentioned, to have that actually happen would require the Johnson’s to have a battery backup system that stored solar energy produced by their solar panels.

More solar energy systems now include backup batteries, which are added to the solar panel installation. However, it will likely be necessary for most families to remain on the grid. In any case, a battery backup would enable the Johnson’s lights to stay on at night, provided there was enough charge left on their battery.

In other words, being on the grid, and having only solar panels, will still allow for a power outage. However, an added backup battery system allows for an independent home electricity supply, once solar panel energy production resumes during daylight hours, or as previously stated, there’s a remaining charge on the battery.

It’s also worth noting that in the past, and perhaps the future as well, in order to qualify for the federal ITC (Investment Tax Credit) a backup battery system has to be charged 100-percent by the solar panels.

Reporter Rachel McDevitt breached the topic of grid reliability in her September 19, 2022 StateImpact Pennsylvania story, Climate change in Pa.: More storm-driven power outages possible, analysis says.”

“A new report shows extreme weather is responsible for most power outages across the country in the last two decades. Pennsylvania ranked fifth in the country in weather-related outages, with 82 over the last 22 years. Severe weather such as high winds, rain, and thunderstorms caused almost 6 in 10 weather-related outages.”

According to the 2020 Pennsylvania Electric Reliability Report:

“Weather and trees are the biggest impacts to electric distribution company (EDC) reliability performance. Trees, in particular off right-of-way (ROW) trees, again are the number one cause of outages and lost customer-minutes in Pennsylvania. FirstEnergy has a program to proactively remove ash trees off ROW was implemented in response to damage caused by the Emerald Ash Borer.”

2020 Pennsylvania Electric Reliability Report | July 2021
The mention of pro-actively removing Ash trees (that have been decimated by the Emerald Ash Borer) makes one wonder if the Spotted Lanternfly invasion will create a similar scenario.
Looking at solutions, a recent report from Climate Central offered these:

There are a number of promising and innovative solutions to build electricity security into our system now, especially alongside the anticipated near-term growth in renewable energy capacity. Here are a few:
• Microgrids are self-sufficient energy systems with a smaller, distinct geographic footprint, such as a college campus, hospital complex, or neighborhood. Their relatively small scale also makes microgrids more easily powered by renewable energy sources, which has the added benefit of reducing emissions from power generation.
• Smart grid technologies include sensors that allow operators to assess grid stability and provide consumers with better information about outages.
• Hardening the grid refers to measures that fortify the system against damage. Examples include tree trimming along power lines, replacing wooden electrical poles with steel or concrete, and burying overhead transmission lines.
• Bidirectional charging is not yet a standard feature for most electric vehicles, but manufacturers are exploring capabilities that would allow vehicles to power homes during blackouts and serve as an energy storage resource for the grid.
• Incentives can further encourage customers to cut back on usage during peak times. Source: Climate Central Report | September 14, 2022

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