Hurricane Sandy seems to have brought out the latent stupidity in just about everyone in their zeal to get in on the climate alarm resurgence. I laughed out loud when I read this op-ed in the NYT by DAVID CRANE and ROBERT F. KENNEDY Jr. published, December 12, 2012, because it becomes immediately obvious that these two “experts” don’t have a clue about how grid-tied solar actually works, and their ideas actually can cause deaths, injury, and additional property destruction if people try to follow their lead and then try to circumvent safety features when they find out their solar system won’t do what they claim. How embarrassing for them.
Residents of New Jersey and New York have lived through three major storms in the past 16 months, suffering through sustained blackouts, closed roads and schools, long gas lines and disrupted lives, all caused by the destruction of our electric system. When our power industry is unable to perform its most basic mission of supplying safe, affordable and reliable power, we need to ask whether it is really sensible to run the 21st century by using an antiquated and vulnerable system of copper wires and wooden poles.
Some of our neighbors have taken matters into their own hands, purchasing portable gas-powered generators in order to give themselves varying degrees of “grid independence.” But these dirty, noisy and expensive devices have no value outside of a power failure. And they’re not much help during a failure if gasoline is impossible to procure.
Having spent our careers in and around the power industry, we believe there is a better way to secure grid independence for our homes and businesses. (Disclosure: Mr. Crane’s company, based in Princeton, N.J., generates power from coal, natural gas, and nuclear, wind and solar energy.) Solar photovoltaic technology can significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and our dependence on the grid. Electricity-producing photovoltaic panels installed on houses, on the roofs of warehouses and big box stores and over parking lots can be wired so that they deliver power when the grid fails.
That last sentence in bold is my emphasis, because it shows just how clueless these people are when it comes to real world solutions. They want to give readers the impression that they can use their grid-tied solar power system after a storm to get electricity, I’m here to tell you that claim is absolute bunk.
Full disclosure. I have a grid tied solar power system on my home. I had one on my previous home, and I orchestrated the first ever solar power system for our local school district. I know a thing or two first hand from an engineering and use standpoint. Here’s my current home installation:
Top: the solar panels. Bottom: the DC to AC inverters and the grid tie and SmartMeter.
Note the red labels, particularly under the SmartMeter. They are required by law. The red one under the meter (along with the new yellow one added by the utility company after inspection for the grid tie certification) reads:
“Possible danger of electrical back feed” is the key phrase, one completely lost on the NYT, Kennedy, and Crane.
The issue is this, if you have grid tied power sources running in your neighborhood, and they are producing power, anyone who isn’t careful doing electrical work could get electrocuted thinking that after they pulled the main breaker, there is no power in the wires. Imagine if you have a bunch of these pumping power into power poles laying on the street after a storm; it becomes an instant fire starter.
But that’s been taken care of too, because the DC to AC inverters won’t function due to this (also required by law and code) safety feature built in. Here’s the relevant code from the inverter installation manual:
Electrical conformity according to U.S., Canadian and
international safety operating standards and code
– UL 1741 – Standard for Inverters, Converters, and
Controllers for Use in Independent Power Systems
4.2 Protective concepts
The following monitoring and protective functions are
integrated in blue planet inverters:
– BiSI grid monitoring to protect against personal
injuries and avoid islanding effects according to UL 1741
What is “BiSI grid monitoring”? According to E DIN VDE 0126, which is a year 1999 standard developed in Europe specifically to address the problem:
The automatic disconnection device is used as a safety interface between the generator and the public low-voltage distribution net and serves as a substitute for a disconnecting switch accessible at all times by the distributing network operator. It prevents the unintentional supply of electrical energy from the generator into a subnetwork disconnected from the rest of the distribution grid (islanding), thereby offering additional protection to the measures specified in DIN VDE 0105-100 (VDE 0105-100), 6.2 to
– operating staff, against voltage in the disconnected subnetwork
– equipment, against inadmissible voltages and frequencies
– consumers, against inadmissible voltages and frequencies
– equipment, against the feed of faults by the generator.
In a nutshell, when the power poles go down, the inverters lose connectivity to the grid, sense this automatically, and shut themselves off.
Never mind the fact that grid-tied solar power doesn’t work at night when you need it most, never mind the fact that during and after the storm, solar insolation is drastically reduced due to rain and cloudiness, and never mind the fact that all electrical systems, solar or otherwise, are just as susceptible to storm damage as conventional power infrastructure, there is one important point that kills the entire idea.
Assuming the solar panels aren’t ripped off the roof by the hurricane/storm, they are of absolutely no use because the grid-tie is broken, and the mandated grid-tie safety features prevent the homeowner from using the inverters to get power locally.
You’d think “experts” like Kennedy and Crane would understand this basic concept…but they probably never got any closer to a solar power system than a photo op.
Some might claim that a battery backup with an automatic transfer switch might solve the issue. But, battery systems double to cost of most solar installations, and need to be replaced about every four years on average (for lead acid batteries, the most common solution), and they need to be maintained, checked, etc, plus require significant space. Compare all that to a $699 generator available from a local hardware outlet that has none of these problems and you’d understand why that is currently the solution of choice for most homeowners that want backup power after a storm.
Hopefully people following their lead for solar systems won’t try to hack their solar power system inverter safety features in time of crisis. The first person to try defeating this safety feature after a storm may get themselves or others killed or injured, either by electrocution or fire. Hopefully the solar power industry will join me in condemning this foolishness propagated by Kennedy and Crane.
h/t to WUWT reader Charles Carmichael for the NYT story link.