It’s time for Texas households to get off the grid | #malware | #ransomware


This op-ed is part of a series published by The Dallas Morning News Opinion section to explore ideas and policies for strengthening electric reliability. Find the full series here: Keeping the Lights On.

It’s time to forget about the power grid. Literally.

The endless studies and finger-pointing about the Texas grid’s failures and risks, which have hardly accomplished anything, ignore the obvious solution: get off the grid. Instead of waiting for utilities and government to develop mediocre Band-Aids for the centralized power system, Texans can take matters into their own hands. By going big with integrated solar, battery storage and a propane generator, homes can ditch the grid entirely.

To be clear, this isn’t about conventional distributed energy. In effectively all instances, solar companies interconnect home systems to the grid and export power for credits on the homeowner’s bill. Battery storage can provide a few hours of backup power, but it’s mostly deployed to help homes use the grid at optimal times.

Going off-grid is a completely different ballgame. This is about calling up the electric company and telling them you’d like to cancel service.

That sound you hear is utility executives losing their minds.

Even if you choose your own retail electricity supplier or have solar panels, you have no choice about who owns the power lines to your house. As long as you’re connected to those poles and wires, the distribution utility makes money. That’s been a great business over the past century.

The Bell System of companies also enjoyed monopoly benefits. Since everyone needed a landline, it was good business to operate a telephone network. Until it wasn’t.

The landline-vs.-cellphones analogy is a good one, but probably understates the potential for rapid change. When Ma Bell first sensed it was in trouble, mobile telecommunication was still in its infancy. The enabling technology here is mature. This can quickly scale beyond current one-off, do-it-yourself efforts. By combining solar, storage and a generator, going off-grid isn’t just possible — it can be straightforward.

It won’t be cheap, for now. Disrupting entrenched industries never is. Tesla’s first car, the Roadster, cost six figures. With innovation and scale, though, costs have come down. The same will happen with off-grid homes.

The other sound you hear is environmentalists screaming that we can’t use fossil fuels anymore. It’s a virtuous idea: natural gas power generation pollutes the air. In utopia, we could power everything with renewables. Unfortunately, the laws of physics don’t bend to our wishes. In almost all situations, 100% renewables just isn’t practical yet.

On the other hand, even if climate change isn’t an urgent issue for you, generators aren’t the answer, either. They’re loud and hard to maintain, especially when used for more than a couple of days in a row.

This is where the integration of solar and storage comes into play. My company calculates that most integrated off-grid systems, properly designed, would use the propane gas generator less than 5% of the time. And there’s more: as homes electrify their heating needs, getting off the electric grid will also mean ditching the natural gas grid, too.

Power grid resilience is more valuable than commonly acknowledged. While most of the focus is on weather-related events, which will increasingly challenge the grid, human-caused blackouts could be even more devastating.

Last year’s ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline caused fuel shortages and gas station lines, but it’s just as easy to take down an electric grid. A cyberattack on control systems could shut off power for weeks. Someone with no more than a shotgun could shoot up substations and cripple the grid. According to a recent Department of Homeland Security study, extremists “have developed credible, specific plans to attack electricity infrastructure.”

None of this will be easy. For starters, bulk power generation and distribution are necessary for high-intensity buildings and industries. We can’t just quit the grid entirely. But with cord-cutting homes no longer drawing electricity, the grid would be less strained for those who need it. That should be good news for grid operators.

There’s also a critical question about the equity of wealthy homeowners going off the grid: Won’t lower-income residents be stuck with the bill to maintain the system? If nothing changes, the answer is yes.

But hold on a second. If homes are going off the grid, we won’t need the same level of infrastructure (and the associated rates). And the Gospels don’t say: Electricity Utilities Shall Make Money, Off Every Investment for All Infrastructure, Forevermore.

They’re a business. If they’ve misjudged the coming movement of off-grid homes and we don’t need as much traditional utility infrastructure, that’s their problem, not ours. It’s basically a foreign language for them, but utilities should familiarize themselves with the term “losing money.”

A common framing — how do we help vulnerable communities and make the utilities whole; let’s make this a win-win! — is nonsense. It also has personal resonance. After Hurricane Maria in 2017, I was horrified by our lack of response for the people of Puerto Rico, millions of whom were without power for months.

The grid and the monopoly utility were (and still are) dysfunctional for the island and its vulnerable communities. And yet the widely accepted solution was to fix the utility, then get the utility to pay for grid improvements along with some solar, and then, I guess, all would be well.

I’d had enough. Even though I’d built a career on utility- and grid-scale projects, I turned my focus to distributed energy. I couldn’t keep watching centralized grids fail, hoping some magic combination of government oversight, or subsidy, or regulatory intervention would turn it all around.

More than four years after Maria and 14 months after Texas’ deep freeze, there’s plenty of hand-wringing, but the utilities and governments are still doing little more than spinning their wheels.

For most Texans, it’s time to say: Enough already. Forget the grid.

Sam Brooks is founder and chief executive of Starfish Electric. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

Find the full opinion section here. Got an opinion about this issue? Send a letter to the editor and you just might get published.



Original Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

two + 5 =