Thursday, March 31, 2011

Japan's Nuke Crisis: Time for Solar Backup?

Should Californians be alarmed?

After sending an email out to prospects last week I got a call from a man I pitched about 16 months ago. He said he is quite interested in adding not only grid-tied solar power to his home in East San Diego County. He was particularly rattled about the nuclear crisis ongoing in Japan and the fact that members of his family have some serious health issues requiring ample electricity availability.

Granted, the possibility of an 8.9 earthquake is not likely here but possible. Also, inland San Diego County is susceptible to devastating brush fires in the fall so this person's concerns are not so far fetched.

California leads the U.S. with some 77,000 grid-tied residential and commercial photovoltaic (PV) systems and San Diego Gas & Electric's territory leads both Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison in total installations despite the fact SDG&E has much fewer customers than either of the other two utilities. Recommending most of these PV system owners add backup systems is maybe "crying wolf" but those living in outlying areas might want to take a look. Also, it helps that panels are already installed so adding batteries and appropriate inverter won't be as much of a capital outlay as installing an entire system.

Mind you, standard fuel-powered generators are the first line of defense against power outages but that solution is only as good as how long the fuel lasts during an extended power outage.

If a customer of either of the Big 3 above has big power bills, a grid-tie system is a very good deal today. Panel prices continue to be rock-bottom low and there is still a CA Solar Initiative rebate and a federal tax credit to help defray installation costs. For those thinking about installing a grid-tie system with backup, consider where you actually live. Those residing in a city likely will get power restored more quickly than people in the back country. A conventional gas-powered generator could be a logical backup for, say, a week-long outage. Granted, this has not happened in the 32 years I've lived in San Diego so the backup option is hardly necessary unless...

Solar power as a long-term backup strategy is the most reliable one can have. The question one needs to ask is how much of a load is enough to sustain a household daily for weeks, possibly months, at a time. This translates into how big an off-grid inverter needs to be and how many batteries are needed for required backup.

For those living in San Diego County, feel free to contact this blogger about solar backup solutions. For those around the U.S. here are some links for further information:


California: Both Nuke Plants Near Faults

Another lesson ignored?

For those naysayers constantly jabbing and maligning solar power advocates as energy pollyannas, here's a present-day take on California's two nuclear plants. The earthquake threat here is obvious but it's possible elsewhere in the U.S. (At right: San Onofre nuclear power plant. The following is an excerpt from "Top Ten Nuclear Nations' Quake Hazard". See whole story at
"Japan's Fukushima Daiichi crisis has raised questions around the world on the earthquake hazard in countries that rely heavily on nuclear power. As it turns out, the seismic threat varies widely in the top ten countries generating electricity by fission.

Although the United States has not built a new nuclear power station since the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, it is far and away the world's largest nuclear power producer. Its 104 reactors produce more electricity than all the nuclear plants in the next two nations-France and Japan-combined. But because U.S. electricity use is so prodigious, all those nuclear plants provide only 20 percent of the total.

"Given the map of U.S. earthquake hazard, it's no surprise that California's two nuclear power plants are the ones that have raised the most political concern in the wake of Japan's crisis. San Onofre, in San Clemente, and Diablo Canyon, in Avila Beach, are located right on the coast, near active faults.

Earthquake hazard in this area of the West, where the North American tectonic plate meets the Pacific plate, is about five times greater than the earthquake hazard in the eastern half of the United States, says seismologist Seth Stein, of Northwestern University's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. He is author of the recent book, Disaster Deferred, on how new science is changing views of earthquake hazards in the Midwestern United States. As the book explains, there is some seismic hazard in the central and eastern part of the country, where the vast majority of U.S. nuclear reactors are located. Damaging earthquakes have occurred near Charleston, South Carolina; Boston, Massachusetts; and New Madrid, Missouri."


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