Sunday, July 30, 2017

ELECTRICITY | Going Off the Grid

July 30, 2017 – An article by Diane Cardwell in today's issue of The New York 

Times describes how the Green Mountain electric utility in Vermont is helping 

customers go off the electric grid.

A 2015 article in Home Power Magazine lists four motivations for going off the grid:

1. Environmental concerns—a desire to use less energy and make as much as possible from renewable sources;

2. Independence from the electrical utility for philosophical reasons or to eliminate vulnerability from utility outages;

3. Political/social values, such as taking responsibility for your energy impacts;

4. Cost—depending on how far you are from the grid, it may make economic sense to stay disconnected.

There is a new strength to motivation #2 that stems from the increased exposure to hacking that was revealed by the 2016 election cycle – the danger of one or more of the U.S. regional power grids being blacked out by hackers. So what Green Mountain is doing is great news.

Another problem with using renewable energy to go off the grid is storage, since solar energy works only with sun and wind energy only with wind. Batteries are needed to store energy during the non-windy, non-sunny periods. The good news is that battery costs are coming down and availability is going up, and with the advent of the Volt and Tesla and other brands batteries will be included with every purchase of a new electric car. 

The Washington Post warned two years ago that going off the grid means that households that have invested in renewable energy are not going to be paid for the energy they send back to the grid. Where the feed-in tariff is high, this is a significant consideration. 

However, when the feed-in tariff is very low, this is not a consideration. PSEG on Long Island, for example, is charging something like 25 cents a kWh (what the consumer pays is subject to all kinds of variables), which is saved by using solar. But when it pays out for fed-in excess energy, it pays less than a nickel per kWh.

PSEG also shuts down renewable-energy suppliers whenever its service goes down, which adds to the user's incentive to go off the grid. The argument by the utilities is that all feeding in must be halted in order to protect the line workers from shock. As long as this argument is used, the consumer of electricity on Long Island will be looking for a way to get off the grid entirely.