By Karen Schaufeld
Last week was a tough week for anyone who relies on traditional electrical grids and natural gas – pretty much anyone who lives in the United States, for example. From New England to Puerto Rico, shortages and outages affected millions of United States’ citizens and residents.
In Puerto Rico, at least one person died and four police officers were injured during a power outage that started when a fire broke out at the substation of Aguirre power plant cutting off electricity to more than 3.5 million utility customers for more than four days. The outage prompted activation of the National Guard and a declaration of a state of emergency and resulted primarily from the fact that the island’s electrical infrastructure is “aging and debt ridden.” Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said, “Given that the [Electric Power Authority] system is so old, numerous setbacks could occur,” at a news conference. “The system is not designed to withstand a failure of this magnitude.”
The power outage also cut off water to thousands whose supply relied on filtration plants and pumping stations that needed electricity, but did not have emergency generators. In fact, businesses and residents without generators either had to scramble to find ways to hydrate and stay cool while the entire island suffered from record high temperatures.
Meanwhile, on the U.S. mainland, a pipeline leak in Alabama disrupted gas distribution and caused panic and a sharp rise in gas prices, not to mention ecological damage that is still being evaluated. The leak was in a pipeline operated by Colonial Pipeline Co. Hundreds of thousands of gallons poured out of the broken line, according to Colonial, and panic resulted from the fact that the pipeline is a “key artery for transporting approximately 40% of the gasoline from the West Coast to the East Coast. According to an oil company that relied on gas from Colonial, “[We are] treating this situation with the same importance and urgency as a natural disaster.”
Frankly, if our energy supply was diversified, these types of interruptions would not escalate to national emergency-level status. As I described in my post “Just Nine Nodes,” America is balancing 21st Century electricity requirements on a 20th Century approach to energy production and distribution, according to a report by the CNA Military Advisory.
And, alarmingly, because our energy infrastructure is so outdated, the disruption of just nine of the nation’s 55,000 transmission stations could cause a serious and prolonged regional or nationwide electricity outage, according to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) study. Don’t believe it? Just look at what happened in Puerto Rico and from Alabama to the Eastern Seaboard for a quick snapshot of what can happen if your power sources are too heavily reliant on the traditional grid.
What can we do to mitigate some of the risk? Luckily, advancing technologies and lowered prices in solar, as an example, will allow us to produce electrical power closer to the consumer and reduce our reliance on the traditional grid quickly. An added bonus would be that on-site electrical generation from solar is impervious to fuel supply disruptions.
As I noted in Creating Distributed, Adaptable, Resilient & Reliable Sources of Energy Will Help Protect America, large-scale adoption of solar energy by both consumers and businesses would help break up the traditional grid and make it less vulnerable to natural or man-made disasters that could bring entire regions of our country down in a single, targeted disruption, fire, leak, attack, weather-related event or any other scenario that you can imagine.
Are you ready for a safer source of energy in the Commonwealth of Virginia? The time for solar is now.