Not quite off the grid

Old friend Dan Lovejoy (see this, for example) explains why distributed generation isn’t the cure-all everyone says it is:

People are going to be putting in their own solar panels left and right, which will definitely cut their power bills. But it won’t necessarily help with reliability. While photovoltaic (PV) solar power is getting cheaper and cheaper, battery prices are falling more slowly. And you really need a battery, a smart inverter which functions as a voltage source (if your battery does not) and solar PV to weather even a short outage. That’s right, solar panels on your house don’t work during a power outage. Crazy, I know, but you need all of the equipment I listed above to island from the grid in the event of an outage. (Actually, you don’t need solar at all if you have charged batteries during a short outage. But it makes sense to couple batteries with solar.)

(Emphasis added.) This is the first use I’ve seen of “island” as a verb.

Now in our latest Oklahoma ice storm, you wouldn’t have fared very well, even with a great solar/battery/inverter system because the days are short and it was mostly raining. But, you ask, what about wind power? Residential scale wind produces very little power, so that wouldn’t power much more than your TV. Also, it wasn’t windy over Thanksgiving.

Hardly renewable if it isn’t newable in the first place, am I right?

Still, in the absence of Cool New Stuff, people are screaming for all the power lines to be buried. I’m guessing I could get my line relocated underground for about $1000. The local utility has 800,000 customers, probably not all of whom can get their lines relocated underground for about $1000.



  1. fillyjonk »

    2 December 2015 · 6:02 am

    My parents’ neighborhood has buried power lines.

    They still had enough outages that they decided they wanted to invest in a generator that ties into the home’s natural-gas line.

    I don’t think buried lines is a cure-all unless EVERY line from the power plant to the home is buried. And even then, in Oklahoma, with our shifty soils and our earthquakes, I’m not sure that would fix it.

    (The natural gas generator, barring MAJOR natural disasters, seems to be a really good solution. They can’t run the whole house off it but it’s enough for a few lights, a radio, the microwave and fridge, and the blower on the gas furnace – in other words, you could survive a few days to weeks in the aftermath of an ice storm. Oh, I think they also have it set up so they can run their coffee maker.)

  2. Jay »

    2 December 2015 · 11:33 am

    Had buried power lines in Florida. Still had plenty of blackouts. Buried power lines are susceptible to, believe it or not, lighting strikes, rodent damage, water infiltration and the occasional bonehead on a backhoe.

    You can get natural gas generators big enough to power the whole house, with autostart and auto-switchover, if you want to go all out. Even with all our outages up here (we are at the very end of a distribution circuit), we went with the simpler gasoline generator which can power the heater, sump pump, refrigerator, and a few lights downstairs. And the TV, cable box, wireless router, switch and server. Priorities.

  3. CGHill »

    2 December 2015 · 11:48 am

    Everything has its drawbacks. And we have boneheads on backhoes, which is why there exists the 811 service:

    They have underground maps for the whole state. You call them out, they’ll flag the routes for everything they find on the land. (When I had a gas line replaced, they came out and marked water and sewer lines, just in case.) I expect similar services exist elsewhere.

  4. fillyjonk »

    2 December 2015 · 12:08 pm

    Oh yeah. My campus lost internet for nearly a week some years back thanks to a couple idiots who cut a fiber-optic line, and then didn’t fess up to what they did.

    I trotted that factoid out to a colleague who was talking about how we should do all our “paperwork,” including textbooks for classes, as online only.

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