In my corner of Southern California last weekend, when the June gloom that had been keeping us comfortably cool retreated in dramatic fashion and record-breaking heat arrived, there were no power outages. Past heat waves (even the briefest ones) tended to bring blackouts the moment electricity demand surged, so I thought that perhaps our utility had finally discovered a way to keep our HVAC systems humming when they’re actually needed.
Turns out my neighborhood was an island of air-conditioned comfort amid a sea of heat-stricken, power-deprived misery. As reported in the L.A. Times, thousands of unlucky Department of Water and Power ratepayers suffered a 48-hour outage, while others endured briefer blackouts that would have been bearable in any other conditions. Some of our letter writers, for whom the DWP is a punching bag in the best of times, unleashed their anger at the utility in response; others considered the possibility that solar may play a role in mitigating future outages.
Michael H. Miller of Los Angeles wondered where the mayor was:
Power outages have become a fact of life in Los Angeles. Last summer, many of us in the Los Feliz area were without electricity off and on for days. Yes, it was a heat wave, but it wasn’t a hurricane or some other disaster.
Many found out that there is no outage hotline — that to call in “no power,” you have to deal with billing questions and other obstacles.
Are these outages going to remain in our future? What is being done?
Mayor Eric Garcetti’s absence from Los Angeles during the recent outage was symbolic: Where is he on every major issue, including homelessness, street conditions, traffic and, yes, the DWP? Concerning the latter, he and DWP had better do something soon.
Thomas Reynolds of Los Angeles decries utilities’ overconfidence:
The power failed the evening of Friday, July 6, at our house. The next morning I looked at my copy of the L.A. Times, anxious to find out what was going on. The front page of the Business section had an article on how well prepared the California Independent System Operator was for the heat wave and that no Flex Alerts had been issued.
Orange resident Bert Bigelow explains why rooftop solar may not be the answer:
In your July 12 editorial on the recent blackouts, one of the suggested solutions was for people to install solar panels “so they could provide their own power,” thus taking pressure off the grid.
While solar panels reduce the load on the grid during sunny hours, they cannot provide power during outages.
Most solar panels are connected to the power grid through inverters. If the grid goes down, the inverter shuts down too, so no power is available from the solar panel. To provide independent power, a solar power system would have to be disconnected from the grid, either permanently or automatically during power outages.
Either way, storage batteries and switching would be required, adding complexity and considerable cost to the system.