Sunday, November 6, 2011

The San Diego Blackout and the Sunrise Power Link

There's a great article at Voice of San Diego about the blackout we just had, and how the answer is not to depend more on foreign energy, but good ol' locally generated renewable stuff. It's really not a trade-off between cheap electricity (which is good!) and conservation (which is also good!), although that's the story we usually hear. In fact in this case it seems to have been a no-brainer, with all the bad stuff (loss of wilderness, fire danger, no improvement to power grid, increased dependence on foreign energy) all on one side.

...The problem began at a substation in Arizona, and a series of triggering events caused failures all the way to San Onofre nuclear plant on the coast. At the cost of an estimated $100 million in damages, and major inconvenience to millions of people, the San Diego region received a crash course about the fragility of depending on a grid that runs mostly on distant sources of energy.

But it didn't have to turn out this way. Four years ago a San Diego engineer, Bill Powers, published a groundbreaking report, San Diego Smart Energy 2020. The report was all about how to use off-the-shelf technologies in order to build and generate power locally to enhance the existing grid, and provide protection against these sorts of events. The report isn't a pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It uses affordable technologies that are available and ready to deploy. It's a practical guide that includes a 20 percent reduction in energy usage through existing efficiency measures and 2,000 megawatts of local solar projects. To back up the solar, which doesn't generate at night, Powers' report proposes 700 new megawatts of small co-generation facilities, similar to what is already in use at Qualcomm, UCSD, SDSU, and Children's Hospital, which are highly efficient users of natural gas.

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