Power to the People (or, Fight the Power!)
July 4, 2012 Leave a comment
I have been thinking about the recent mega-outage in the mid-Atlantic. Now, I am writing this from a car driving us to LGA, and the only outage we experienced was our DSL, so I don’t mean to imply that we suffered from this. The power lines in Georgetown are buried (which previously had led to the exploding manhole covers, before Pepco installed breathable ones), and in 9 years of living there we have had one power outage (when a transformer exploded nearby), and that lasted about 3 hours.
In any case, here are a few observations:
1. It’s often said that burying power lines is prohibitively expensive. However, the net aggregate cost of these major outages sure is expensive too! Perhaps a compromise would e helpful, so here is one: on a per neighborhood basis, *start* burying power lines, adding a temporary surcharge for some period of time. Select some of the bigger offenders (alternately, do the easiest to accomplish) first, and then at the next big storm the outage will be spottier than it is now, which means that the cascading load movement from one failure will be less likely to take down other neighborhoods. Additionally, people would not have to go as far to reach power, and hopefully some of the secondary effects (food spoilage, heat stroke, etc) could be minimized.
2. Subsidize per-house generators in neighborhoods where it’s bad (perhaps the ones which will be later in step #1?). Perhaps there could be neighborhood block-installs, where PEPCO (et al) would make a marketing push to get installs done (with a “do it now” discount?). This too makes big problems a bit smaller.
3. I cannot think of a better argument for rooftop solar panels. Encouraging non-grid sources of power likewise reduces the problem. I think too much is said about the whole carbon/climate change stuff- I think solar is only slightly better than useless if that’s the issue (although vastly better than wind, which should really only be used for pumping water up towers) due to not being a baseline power source, but as a backup it really can’t be beat.
There’s a current “all-or-nothing” meme out there about the power problems, and I don’t think that’s helpful. We didn’t build the system all at once, so why should a retrofit require that level of forklifting?