Wanted: small solutions

by Yule Heibel on June 27, 2005

Our neighbourhood has had two power outages in the last 2 days, each starting in the morning and lasting about 2 hours. I didn’t check BC Hydro‘s website after the first outage on Saturday, but when I looked just now, today’s outage was caused by “Bird contacting our wires.” Gee, downtown Victoria, on the ocean, has a power outage because of birds? What was it? A seagull convention? A couple of bald eagles having having a salmon fry? A murder of crows?

Maybe the utility is trying to make a point with consumers after too many of us opposed their plan to build a gas-fired plant in Nanaimo. This ill-conceived project would have required laying a gas pipeline underwater through the sensitive and valuable Gulf Islands marine ecosystem.

A better idea is on offer from Sea Breeze Power Corporation, which plans to promote wind energy and which backs the transmission project that will link, via cable, Vancouver Island with Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula:

On another business front, also with positive implications for Vancouver Island, Sea Breeze Pacific Juan de Fuca Cable, LP (“Sea Breeze Pacific” – a 49.75 % owned subsidiary of Sea Breeze Power Corp.), is moving into the Vancouver Island public consultation phase for its Juan de Fuca Transmission Cable.

The cable, a submarine 40 kilometre, 540-megawatt “High Voltage Direct Current” (“HVDC Light™”) line between Victoria, British Columbia and Port Angeles, Washington State, is designed to deliver power from “south to north” as well as “north to south”, providing critical reliability for Vancouver Island and strengthening the grids on both sides of the border.

Technical studies for the Juan de Fuca Cable, being conducted by utilities on both sides of the border, are expected to be completed Fall, 2005. The line is scheduled to be operational by Fall, 2007. [More…]

Dropping a power cable would seem to be much easier and less invasive than laying a gas pipeline, and Vancouver Island would be feeding its wind energy into the grid, too. On the downside, we’d be hooked into a regional grid which could go down (as did the Ohio-based snafu of 8/2003), leaving the entire region in the dark.

Back to power outages again…

When the power went off on Saturday, the major annoyance was finding the carbon monoxide detector plugged into an outlet under a heavy sideboard: its battery had run down, and now that the current was also off, it announced its distress with startling decibel capability. Otherwise, however, the day was warm, it was light, and it wasn’t so bad not having electricity. We could still light the range-top with a match, if not the oven (which has a brain that’s electronically wired). I found an old Italian-style express coffee maker and luckily had enough ground beans on hand (otherwise, I suppose I could have ground up some beans using a mortar and pestle — the handgrinder my parents had went out the door a long time ago). But no internet (the airport was down, my laptop battery is dead anyway), no computer, no vacuuming (yeah!), no laundry (yeah again!), no recorded music or radio (I guess we really should have some batteries on hand for the remaining functioning boombox). We at least still had phone service since we kept two corded phones, but otherwise the electronic-digital flow of information stopped flowing. Weird feeling…

It’s amazing and scary how hostage this particular house is held to electricity.

So I took myself on a virtual shopping trip to SPS Energy Solutions (formerly known as Soltek Powersource). SPS sells backup power systems (couldn’t find a price range, though); they sell home appliances and every kind of solar lighting system; even solar powered water pumps (for those with wells or ponds on their property). But the coup de grâce is of course their Green Power Grid Tie System, which allows you to collect your own solar energy, store it in battery for backup, and sell it back to the grid when/ if you’re producing an excess. This page seems to be the gateway page to more specific information about the system. The sticker shock sets in, however, when you read here that a complete system costs ~$25K (prior to whatever rebates are on offer by your province/ municipality or state). Yikes. That’s a lot of breakfast toast. But then again, if costs came down enough, wouldn’t it be cool if more new construction simply included this kind of set-up, and if it became easier for older homes to retrofit, too?

Small power outage: small solutions, please.

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