Microgrid — The Texas Freeze is a Message About Grid Reliance


What’s happening in Texas and other states around the country is heartbreaking.

Although the Polar Vortex is a normal weather pattern, it can slide beyond its typical range and affect areas further south — as we are witnessing in the media reports daily. While the media politicizes the result of privatized electrical grids for the benefit of the few or ill-prepared infrastructure designed for cost savings, it’s impossible to ignore that millions are still suffering.

The below-freezing temperatures are turning lives upside down — the energy grid has gone offline for most, utilities are frozen and inaccessible, and in some extreme cases, pipes are bursting and flooding homes that weren’t designed for below-freezing temperatures.

This is a stark reminder for us as citizens of our cities to rethink our reliance on outdated energy grids. In California, we’ve suffered rolling blackouts and have learned to live with PSPS as a result of extreme wildfire danger during many months of the year and there is neither recourse nor reimbursement for the damage it causes (e.g. spoiled food, electrical surges for damaged equipment, etc.).

But there are solutions.

New options are becoming commercially available to help us through extreme weather patterns, starting with removing your home’s reliance on grid electricity.

Companies like Tesla and Sonnen have been manufacturing high-performance home battery solutions to help homes outlast power outages. These batteries have a storage capacity ranging from 5kWh to 20kWh, enough to keep an electrified home online for at least a full day of normal usage for the average American household.

(Left) Sonnen Eco — Energy Capacity 5 kWh-20 kWh (Right) Tesla Powerwall — Energy Capacity 13.5 kWh

As with all new technologies, the first step should be localized education. In the process of researching a solar installation for my home, I’ve spoken with many people — friends with solar installed, friends working in the solar industry, and installers themselves. Many of the people I’ve spoken with are unaware that most solar installations in California are grid-tied, which means if the grid goes down your home won’t be able to use any of the power generated from your panels. Most solar installations don’t have a battery component, so there is no backup power source in the event of grid shutdowns and you’re stuck in the dark alongside your no-solar neighbor.

Even worse, most houses in California have not updated to electrified heating and cooling systems, which means the appliances that condition your air and water (water heater and furnace) would be ineffective if natural gas utilities become blocked (like what’s happening Texas).

Our local governments and non-profits need to bring more education and information to homeowners so they can prepare themselves for what seems like inevitable shifts in weather due to climate change. The more prepared we are as individuals, the easier we’ll outlast catastrophe and the less damage and cost will incur to our communities.

Solar is already making an amazing impact on energizing our homes in a step towards self-sufficiency. As more homes utilize these sustainable energy solutions, the cheaper they will be to manufacture. For Americans, the next step will be to bring home batteries and heat pump technologies to our homes so we can continue to stay warm (or cool) on the energy we receive free from the sun.

Originally published at https://www.georgedy.com on February 18, 2021.

I’m an entrepreneur, product manager, and designer living in Oakland, California. I’ve spent the last 10 years bringing digital and physical products to market.