What California Can Learn from the Australian Wildfires

by Anna Gretz
January 20, 2020
power grid

Wildfires are up against the Australian power grid. 

The threat to the grid has come when Australians need electricity the most. The weather down under (and one of the reasons for the fires) is extremely hot. Aussies are in dire need of air conditioning, one of the greatest possible strains on the power grid. Jill Cainey, general manager of networks at Energy Networks Australia, recently talked to Greentech Media about the problem. 

"If you have an intense extreme heat event where, let's say, Melbourne and Sydney are impacted on the same day, then it's harder to share the same resources to ensure that everyone has the electricity they need to run their air conditioning." In 2018 when temps reached their annual January highs, almost 100K customers lost power. 

It was a big, sweaty deal. And Australians knew something had to change. Operators have now been pushing Australians to take part in demand response programs. These programs pay customers to cut their energy use when the grid starts getting overloaded. 

sydney-australia

You know what else helps? Australia's impressive solar penetration.

After one particularly rough bushfire season, Australian authorities immediately started talking about putting power lines underground. Wooden poles and poorly-insulated lines are extremely vulnerable to fires. But when leaders started talking about an underground grid, they confronted a new study, suggesting that solar power and energy storage could be a simpler, and cheaper option. 

The installation of solar power and home batteries can eliminate the risk of electrical outages for just a tenth of the price of grid restructuring with underground lines. And in the case of high fire risk, Australian residents could go off-grid, giving the power lines a break. 

But residents were likely to want to use their solar and battery storage systems much more often than just those high-risk days. Solar panels, when coupled with home battery storage systems, can provide blackout protection and backup power using the reliable, renewable power from the sun... all year round. 

These ideas were brought to Australian authorities by the University of Loughborough's Michael Williamson. He spent years crunching the numbers, considering all of the different options available. He presented the solar-plus-storage solution with confidence, seeing it as the best answer to the fire conflicts in Australia, as well as other fire-prone regions like New South Wales... and our very own California. 

Solar + Storage is a more reliable power source.

California is getting it. 

S&C Electric's latest data agrees that more distributed grid resources need to be hooked up in order to adequately address reliability concerns. After S&C surveyed its customer base, 25 percent reported that they experienced monthly power outages, as the power grid system currently stands.

One vastly underused resource is the already-standing distributed network of home batteries, specifically across the California landscape. The growing unconnected-network of solar batteries in the residential sector could potentially compose an essential component of a smart, distributed grid with some groundwork and participation. We hope that the future of energy resilience will include a grass-roots effort to team up with utility companies to help make our power systems more secure, together.

But homeowners don’t need to wait for this day to come--the time for personal energy security is already here. In-home solar-plus-energy storage systems are already a viable, economical option for homes seeking energy security, and Swell believes that everyone should have the opportunity to protect their home from a grid outage.

That’s why Swell developed EnergyShield, the world’s first solar + storage energy security plan. To make sure everyone can access the peace of mind that comes with back-up power, EnergyShield plans start at just $1 a day.

Interested in being part of California’s more distributed energy future? Get more information on EnergyShield here, and join the distributed energy revolution.