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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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Palo Alto's climate goals threatened by inadequate power grid

Uploaded: Feb 6, 2022
The City of Palo Alto’s emissions goals are in jeopardy because of its outdated electrical grid. During a February 2 Utilities Advisory Commission (UAC) meeting that Commissioner A.C. Johnston called “one of the most important discussions we’ve had on UAC for a long time,” Assistant Director of Utilities Tomm Marshall did not mince words. When asked if the city would be able to electrify all of its single-family homes by 2030, as the city has been exploring, he responded “Practically, it can’t be done.”

Palo Alto’s electric grid was designed decades ago for homes that used relatively little electricity. Marshall explained that it’s “very typical” for a utility pole with a 37.5 kVA transformer to support around 15 households. What that means is those homes could consume an average of about 2400 watts. Think one toaster plus one hair dryer. You can imagine that as households add heat pumps and EV charging, which tend to run at several kilowatts (kW) for multiple hours, the utility would need to upgrade the transformers and the lines that feed them.

An old electrical panel from a 1950’s Palo Alto home reflects the lower electricity needs back then.

A preliminary study that the utility supervised in September 2020 modeled the impacts of electrifying Palo Alto’s 15,000 single-family homes. It found that heat pumps would result in additional demand on winter mornings, around 2-3 kW per household. More power would be used for air-conditioning on summer afternoons as well. The peak demand, which is what the electrical grid must be designed to handle, would grow to over 2.5x its current value (from 1.4 kW to 3.6 kW) if all homes switched to electric heat. You can see the new peak, on winter mornings, in the chart below.

Peak load will increase when homes are electrified. Source: City of Palo Alto Utilities (2020)

Electric vehicles also result in significant additional demand, but if the charging is well managed that demand need not affect peak capacity. (The EVs can charge at off-peak hours.) The study modeled both optimal charger management (no impact on peak load from EVs) and a typical night-time charging situation, where a two-EV household would add about 1.2 kW on average for each hour between 9pm and 6am.

The study concludes that if all single-family homes in Palo Alto are electrified -- heating and transportation -- then virtually all of the estimated 797 transformers in the city that serve single-family homes would need to be upgraded, as well as about 20% of the secondary distribution lines and 25% of the feeder lines.

Virtually all of the transformers serving single-family homes in Palo Alto would need to be upgraded if the homes were all electrified. Source: City of Palo Alto Utilities (2020)

Marshall is also concerned about the potential for an even bigger demand peak after a prolonged outage. He explained that when a lengthy power outage is resolved, many appliances come on at full power across all impacted households at the same time. The study looks at this situation and estimates a peak demand of 8.5 kW per household, much greater than today’s 1.4 kW peak or the estimated 3.6 kW winter morning peak for normal operations.

Modernizing a grid involves more than just increasing capacity. We want to better support two-way flow (e.g., EV batteries discharging to the grid when there is a Flex Alert) and we want to improve grid reliability. Technology is rapidly evolving in these areas, as are tools to better secure the grid and to ensure the quality of the power supply (e.g., frequency regulation) as more households become generators as well as consumers of electricity.

The question is, can Palo Alto walk and chew gum at the same time? Can we upgrade our grid while we electrify buildings and transportation? Marshall comes down a hard “No” on this, particularly in the context of the aggressive 2030 goal. In a fairly black-and-white presentation, he outlines Option 1 and Option 2. Option 1 is business as usual, where we upgrade the grid as we go. This can result in inefficient upgrades, haphazard rollouts of new technology, extra expense, and customer delays. With a dearth of qualified staff to do the work, or even to manage contractors, Marshall states that the electric utility simply would not be able to keep up with the work needed if the city pushes to electrify all single-family homes in the 2030 timeframe. It can barely handle the level of demand today. In his preferred Option 2, the city postpones pursuing its 80x30 goal while the utility contracts with experts to design a 21st-century grid, updates the larger components (substations and main feeders) as needed, gets contracts in place for the smaller upgrades, and then updates the smaller components in sections, at which point targeted electrification promotions could roll out. He suggests that delay would be 3-4 years.

I don’t know if it was my imagination, but some of the Commissioners seemed positively relieved to hear this, as though they are finally in possession of a solid excuse to put aside the politically challenging task of equitably electrifying Palo Alto’s single-family homes by 2030. Councilwoman Allison Cormack also retreated quickly to suggesting that we could hopefully run some pilots during this multi-year planning process. She defended this approach by pointing to a recent survey of Palo Altans showing less than universal support for addressing climate change. (1)

Other Commissioners pushed for a better set of options. With so little information in the presentation it was difficult to offer concrete suggestions, or even to gauge how close we are to having major problems. EV adoption is taking off regardless of whether the city promotes it, so will we have to tell people they cannot charge their cars at home? If hot and smoky weather persists as the new summer normal, and homeowners are forced to keep windows closed at night, will we have to ask them to cut back on air conditioners? Rapidly increasing electric demand may be coming whether we are ready or not.

The utility could consider requiring the use of smart chargers for EVs, or at least making them available at very low cost. Same for smart thermostats. Aggressive pricing models can swing use away from peak times. (While Palo Alto does not have the requisite smart meters yet, it could roll out the first batch next year to all-electric homes or to homes in grid-constrained areas.) Commissioner John Bowie suggested that aggregating upgrades could save effort and expense. Lena Perkins, a Senior Planner at City of Palo Alto Utilities, is interested in the potential for smart panels to make the best use of constrained supply to homes. There are many types of fairly established technologies that can mitigate the need for (and expense and delay of) grid upgrades. There is no doubt in my mind that an Option 3 exists that can support a considerable amount of electrification without the need to wait for a full grid update.

I was disappointed that Marshall did not inform or engage more with his presentation. It was not designed to educate or solicit meaningful feedback. Instead, the goal seemed to be to draw a line in the sand. “Listen to us. You can’t do this without infrastructure. Stop the madness.” Commissioner Lisa Forssell asked directly if Infrastructure was being ignored, and Marshall’s answer was yes, in particular with regard to the 2030 timeframe. If that is the case, the city must do better. Marshall suggested that moving the electrification efforts under the utility would help. (2)

One of the biggest impediments to progress on the city’s aggressive climate goals is the utility’s difficulty hiring qualified staff. Marshall said that the utility is “very understaffed in both engineering and operations on the electric side today”, going so far as to say that engineering is “half staffed”. He explained that it is “very difficult to attract people to come to work in Palo Alto” and cited the high cost of living. “If we get somebody, they’re typically already here.” He said it is especially hard to find electrical engineers, since they are in high demand. PG&E is doing a lot of hiring with their wildfire hardening and undergrounding efforts. Marshall claimed that PG&E is offering linemen on the Peninsula a $50K signing bonus. Utilities Director Dean Batchelor concurred, saying that “It’s really tough to find people who will come here.” He talked about his recent experience recruiting at San Luis Obispo, one of two schools with power program degrees (the other is Sacramento State), and noted the fact that it will take four years to train the recruits they do attract. The Commissioners all wanted to understand these challenges better, and agreed that quality people are needed to achieve the city’s goals.

It is no surprise that Palo Alto’s decades-old distribution system needs work. And it is no surprise that the 80x30 goal, set in 2016, would force that issue. I’m not entirely sure why this is only coming up now, but in a way it’s a good sign. It’s clear that the city and the utility are taking electrification seriously. The question of “if” we electrify was never discussed, only “when”, and even then it was a matter of a few years. The challenge of making this pivot in a world of rapidly evolving grid technology was also clear. Marshall expressed a desire to “assess all technologies” and examine “all the different things out there we could do”. That is laudable but also problematic, because this is a quickly evolving space. What bets should Palo Alto place, and when, to support and, yes, drive adoption of the most impactful emissions reductions while following a safe and conservative plan to update our grid? That is a big question, and one that I hope that we will lean into together so we can accelerate our efforts as the world continues to warm.

Notes and References
1. In a survey of 801 Palo Alto voters done at the end of 2021, results showed that 53% of voters think climate change is an “extremely serious” or “very serious” problem, 21% think it is “somewhat serious” and 26% consider it to be “not too serious”.

“Extremely serious” responses are shown on the left and “not too serious” on the right.

In addition, when voters were asked what rationale might be acceptable for a tax measure to raise more revenue, 68% felt climate change was a “very acceptable” or “somewhat acceptable” rationale, while 29% said it was “somewhat unacceptable” or “very unacceptable”. (The rest, shown in gray below, didn’t know.)

“Very acceptable” responses are shown on the left and “very unacceptable” on the right.

2. Commissioner Greg Scharff weighed in as well on governance, stating that he would like to see the UAC have decision-making power rather than just being an advisory board. He pointed to the City of Alameda’s Public Utilities Board as an example of that.

Current Climate Data (December 2021)
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard

30+ degree temperature anomalies all over Alaska on January 24. Source: Twitter

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Posted by Local Resident, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Feb 6, 2022 at 7:49 am

Local Resident is a registered user.

This is another reason we should be pursuing roof top solar more aggressively along eith Tesla home batteries so homes can have their own micrigrids.

It also looks like asking the utilitty dept to add fiber to the home service to compete with AT&T and Comcast is coming at the expense of 80/30

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Feb 6, 2022 at 8:37 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Local, thanks for the comment! My take is that islanded homes are a private benefit, not a public benefit. Sort of like private schools. They should not be subsidized, and they should not come at the expense of the public grid. Storage can be a public benefit if it is managed by the grid. I am really interested in what comes of using EV batteries to manage peak demand. The storage in the EV batteries just in Santa Clara County exceeds all of the utility-scale storage on California's grid. In the meantime, we have to improve energy efficiency and manage our flexible demand (remove it from peak periods). Solar unfortunately is rarely available during peak periods, and so does little to help. Just my 2c.

Posted by John, a resident of another community,
on Feb 6, 2022 at 12:53 pm

John is a registered user.

@local and @sherry rooftop solar is a net public benefit by reducing the strain on the local power grid and supplying more power to the local grid during summer months when solar production is higher and stress on the grid is highest. I'm surprised that wasn't a key part of the conversation. Palo Alto residents should support their local utility (which provided 100% green far before PGE) by deploying rooftop solar (if it is within their means).

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 6, 2022 at 1:32 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

I am still very concerned about how unreliable power is in Palo Alto. Many are still working from home and the power losses (as well as unreliability of many of the internet providers) is a big issue for those who are working either full time or hybrid versions of WFH. Students are dependent on power and internet for homework and even tests and these are not just issues for school children but college students also.

I would really like to see a list of how many homes have lost power for more than one hour and how often in each year. Likewise, how many have lost internet for similar breakdowns.

This information would make very interesting reading.

Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Feb 6, 2022 at 6:36 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

First, I am as always glad of the effort you put into bringing us this information - it's hard to come across it otherwise.

Seems to me that the UAC is getting siloed in its thinking/mission. It seems clear that if we really care about the biggest bang for the buck in reducing emissions we need to discuss funding high-emissions areas to cut their emissions. That might be another town in CA, or it might be a town in China.

It's my understanding that the UAC and PA are not considering mandating commercial users to end use of gas or convert to all-electric, which indicates to me that the whole effort is more virtue-signaling rather than fact-based. That would fit with "some of the Commissioners seemed positively relieved to hear this, as though they are finally in possession of a solid excuse to put aside the politically challenging task of equitably electrifying Palo Alto's single-family homes by 2030. " It's my opinion that the 2030 single family goal is just to keep interested voters thinking progress will be made, but in the end nothing will happen, as with Menlo Park. That's not necessarily a bad outcome, but does seem dishonest.

PS - The table of transformer counts puzzles me, as the Outage column's 785 is indeed the total of the numbers underneath, but the Optimistic and Conservative column heads are much smaller than the totals of their numbers - perhaps something got lost in the cutting and pasting?

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Feb 6, 2022 at 7:48 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Bystander: I strongly agree that there needs to be more transparency around outages.

@Mondoman: Yikes, thanks for pointing out the strange part of the table. I've removed that portion for now -- it's not really relevant -- but will follow up with one of the supervisors of the study.

Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Feb 7, 2022 at 7:51 am

Annette is a registered user.

THANK YOU, Ms. LIstgarten for this informative report. I have been listening to the S-CAP meetings, wondering HOW an unreliable grid could possibly handle additional demand caused by a wholesale conversion from gas to electric for the existing population PLUS the demand caused by growth. It is a relief to read that the UAC is at least acknowledging the problem.

I'd like to see a printout of this report inserted in our utility bills. This should be required reading - especially for those promoting growth b/c it is important that we not add to our built environment without first stabilizing and then augmenting the infrastructure critical to supporting that growth.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Feb 7, 2022 at 8:31 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Thank you for injecting some much-needed reality into all the value-signalling.

The inadequacy of the grid has been painfully obvious for years throughout CA while they rushed to shut off gas BEFORE ensuring there was -- or would soon be -- adequate electric power. Their excuse while massive fires burned etc.: We've got to meet our targets.

Maybe we should keep reminding PA of this reality whenever they start beating the old TARGET drum while spending a fortune to reach these unattainable targets safely.

Given their willingness to spend $23,000,000 to compete with AT&T on fiber when there's no evidence PA and PAU can manage such a project technically or economically, I'm not optimistic.

Posted by TimR, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 7, 2022 at 9:11 am

TimR is a registered user.

What about using EV's to "discharge to the home," for when a car's just sitting there all day, unused? With many people working from home at least some of the time, it seems like an EV could be doing something useful with its batteries during that time. I realize that, as things are now, this would void the Tesla warranty (and would require modifications to be able to do easily), and that it would shorten the life of the batteries. But maybe those issues could dealt with, for the sake of some extra electricity during peak hours. It would help justify the main drawback with private cars in general: big hunks of metal, plastic and electrics that are idle for the vast majority of their lives.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Feb 7, 2022 at 9:41 am

Online Name is a registered user.

In addition to voiding Tesla warranties, let's remember all the people stuck in the fires who couldn't open their garage doors to get to their cars and/or whose EVs had lost power, all those people who never got disaster warnings because their cell phones lost power...

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Feb 7, 2022 at 9:57 am

Joseph E. Davis is a registered user.

Good article. The rubber will hit the road when average citizens realize what is being demanded of their wallets or lifestyle. The backlash will be intense, in my opinion. That is why the politicians are happy to delay things.

Posted by BobH, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Feb 7, 2022 at 11:19 am

BobH is a registered user.

Good article, I agree this is a real problem. Probably made worse by the City of Palo Alto continued practice of using the Utilities department as a general fund revenue source instead of using the surplus to invest back into infrastructure (or lowering rates).

As other have pointed out, we should be making the local power grid more distributed by promoting Solar in Palo Alto. Just the opposite that the CPUC is trying to do to discourage residential solar.

Current Tesla TVs and most other EV do NOT include the ability to put power back into the grid. That might be something that could happen in the future, but it's the reality today. I suspect any plan that includes that is not realistic.

The Tesla I own includes the capability to charge at a certain time. Once Palo Alto has different time of day electricity rates, I will charge when it is cheapest. No upgrade to my charging infrastructure is needed.

Posted by SRB, a resident of St. Francis Acres,
on Feb 7, 2022 at 11:53 am

SRB is a registered user.

Thanks for another very instructive post. This is very alarming actually, because for many cities (like Mountain View), the grid is managed by PG&E and there is virtually nothing we can do locally about scaling up local transformers.... to move to 100% electriciation and meet our Climate goals.

Posted by STAN@OSTASSOC.COM, a resident of Portola Valley,
on Feb 7, 2022 at 1:52 pm

STAN@OSTASSOC.COM is a registered user.

Why does this comes as such a surprise?
PV utilities dept has been haranguing its customers for decades to switch to electrical power from gas. But now comes the realization that there is a need to come up with a pragmatic assessment of the inability of the utilities in PA, and incidentally the rest of CA, to address the fact that the grid is not even close to being able to support an all electrical power environment.
Take just the EV situation as one example. How are EV's going to get charged? Most residents in PA don't use their garage or even driveways for parking. So are the local sidewalks going to be festooned with thick extension cords every night? If there are sidewalk charging stations that may need to be shared for multiple vehicles are customers going to need to come out at the wee hours to
shift the connection from one vehicle to another so that charging can be done off peak.
Then how are people going to stay warm and prepare food in an all electric Camelot when there is a power outage? At least one of PA's leaders suggested heaters are not needed because it's not cold in CA.

Posted by William Hitchens, a resident of Mountain View,
on Feb 7, 2022 at 2:01 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

Great article. Wonderful to see some real data and realistic projections for a change.

The 2030 mandate is finally being shown for what it is: Arbitrary, idealistic, and made without proper analysis of future needs vs realistic future capacity.

As Robert Burns said in poem "To A Mouse"

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Posted by Holden, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Feb 7, 2022 at 2:37 pm

Holden is a registered user.

Thanks as always for a great post!

It seems like we could harness the power of local Capitalism to help solve this problem:  Let customers opt in to a true Time-of-Use (TOU) electricity plan, where they can supply electricity back to the grid, and get paid at a rate that reflects the value of that electricity *at that moment* to the grid.  Of course, subtract a few cents per kWh supplied to fairly compensate the utility for distribution and grid maintenance.

Let the users individually decide if they want their solar systems, home batteries, and/or EVs to supply electricity to the grid.  The price signals will guide them.  If users are rewarded for helping to trim down the demand peaks, that will also be of value to the utility, and may mean that fewer transformer upgrades will be needed.

So how about we get going on rolling out the smart meters, and roll out some true TOU pricing plans, and allow the electricity users to contribute to solving the grid problems?

Posted by Wondering, a resident of another community,
on Feb 7, 2022 at 6:43 pm

Wondering is a registered user.

How might finishing up the initially-started but never completed undergrounding of electrical wires in Palo Alto factor into these deliberations and opportunities? Might finishing that project result in many fewer power outages?

Posted by Sven Thesen, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Feb 7, 2022 at 11:06 pm

Sven Thesen is a registered user.

@ Sherry L. Thank you for the article. I tried to verify "Marshall claimed that PG&E is offering linemen on the Peninsula a $50K signing bonus." And found that it's $20k Web Link Which is still significant.

I also ask @Online Name to provide data to support: "...let's remember all the people stuck in the fires...whose EVs had lost power..." Unfortunately in the CA fires, people died in their garages when the power was out Web Link

However, I can't find anything regarding people dying in the fires because their EV lost power.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Feb 8, 2022 at 1:16 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Wow, what a great set of comments. I love that so many of you are interested in what's happening with our distribution grid! A couple of comments/clarifications/etc…

I want to emphasize that this report was done as part of the 2030 effort. When City Council doubled down on this effort a year or so ago, the whole point was to know what it would take -- staff-wise, cost-wise, effort-wise, etc -- for the city to hit the 80x30 goal. This report is part of that analysis. So the 80x30 team is doing a good job imo, taking the goal at face value and really trying to answer that question. (Yes, this could have been done earlier. Better late than never?)

I should also add that Palo Alto Utilities Assistant Director Tomm Marshall mentioned he would like to take another look at this study -- I refer to it as “preliminary” because there are still some more things they want to examine. Both Marshall and Palo Alto Utilities Director Batchelor mentioned that the good news is they think the big items (substations, primary feeder lines) are generally in good shape. The rest is entirely doable, their doubts are all around the timeframe.

@Holden suggests we align our electricity prices (for both exports and imports) with the value they provide and let capitalism do its work. I agree with that, though we have to make sure that electricity, whose demand is very inelastic, remains affordable for lower-income households that may have trouble affording equipment that helps to flex loads (e.g., smart thermostat).

Related to this, @TimR asks about using EV batteries to support the grid. That is very compelling imo, and there are some important trials happening. The key thing here, to Holden’s point, will be to reimburse users sufficiently to compensate for any battery degradation that results. I’ve seen some studies that try to evaluate this, but it depends on a lot of factors. Here is one such study. And here is a readable overview of the issue. Ideally this would make EVs more affordable, as well as better utilized as TimR points out.

@Sven: Re the $50K, he specifically said “Peninsula” and not “Bay Area”, but I don’t have more details than that. Thanks for looking it up.

@Mondoman: Senior Resource Planner Christine Tam at the utility got back to me with an updated version of the table, which you can see now in the blog post. Thanks again for pointing out the error, and thanks to Christine for the update.

@BobH: Feel free to charge midday while you are waiting for the smart meter rollout. That will help to reduce grid emissions and utility costs, while also building good habits for when the time-of-use rates do kick in!

@Wondering: Re undergrounding, I think it’s pretty expensive, not just to install but also to do maintenance. At one point they were thinking of undergrounding blocks when they go all-electric, as a carrot, but that seems pretty far out. Hopefully there are less expensive ways to improve reliability. Smart meters will help pinpoint outages more quickly, which is something.

Anyway, thanks again for all the thoughts. I really do think that EV batteries will be a big part of improving reliablity and reducing costs, but it is going to take some time to work out the different elements that need to come together to make it work -- battery tech, pricing, grid and utility support, etc. In the meantime, there are still many things that we and the utility can do to reduce growth in peak demand while we electrify.

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Feb 8, 2022 at 3:39 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

Current State policy is to require support for unlimited population growth. Assuming this continues to be the case, demands on the grid will increase well beyond those required for electrification.

In addition, use of individually-owned cars will have to decrease. The only way to support the higher population densities envisioned by the State is to rely on shared transit.

Just from an engineering perspective, it would be unwise to make a system that's growing per capita, the grid, depend on a system that's shrinking per capita, private car use. That decreases the reliability of both systems.

Posted by Tom, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Feb 8, 2022 at 4:09 pm

Tom is a registered user.

One thing we can do to meet the four needs I read about ( preserve a safe climate, preserve our dollars and quality of life, and meet workforce shortages ) is to electrify our homes and vehicles efficiently with well-controlled and/or lower power machines.
Choosing the 15 Amp version of heat pump water heaters, or the new 120 Volt versions,
Choosing larger water heater storage tank size to meet our high demands for hot water.
Choosing high efficiency variable speed heat pumps for heating and cooling
Choosing powerful 20 Amp EV chargers instead of the over powered 50 Amp versions. (150 miles per night vs. 380 miles per night of charging.) ( 54,000 miles/year vs. 135,000 miles/year ).
These choices save us money on not needing to upsize our electric panels and they might allow the utility to keep up with electrification without delaying it.
While these choices won't replace the need to speed up grid modernization, they will assist in brining our load growth down to match the capability of a reasonably expanded workforce.

Posted by Holden, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Feb 8, 2022 at 7:03 pm

Holden is a registered user.

Here's a back-of-the-envelope calculation that might be interesting -- what would the *average* power consumption of a fully-electrified house in California be? 

In other words, if this house had some energy storage (home battery and/or EVs), but no solar system on the roof, what would its continuous, average power draw from the grid be?

Here are some rough 2009 California numbers I pulled off the EIA website:

Average CA household annual electricity consumption:  7000 kWh

Average CA household annual space/water heating use (60 million BTU -- assume produced by a heat pump with a Coefficient of Performance of 3.5):  5000 kWh

Average CA household annual EV electricity use (2 cars x 12,000 miles x 0.25 kWh/mile, 100% charged at home):  6000 kWh

Total annual electricity consumption of fully-electrified house:  18,000 kWh

Now, if that 18,000 kWh of electrical energy were provided to the house at a *constant* basis 24/7/365, that works out to be about 2 kW of continuous power.  Or, assuming a 220V utility service, that's only about 9 amps, continuous.

So ... maybe our utilities should consider providing rebates for home energy storage to avoid the cost of upgrading its grid?

Posted by Duveneck neighbor, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Feb 8, 2022 at 9:01 pm

Duveneck neighbor is a registered user.

Ms Listgarden's continued, adamant rejection of residential power generation -- whatever the source -- continues to defy rational comprehension.

Here, she posits a problem (a grid inadequate to delivery *from outside the CPAU service area*, of enough power and energy to satisfy the increased demand resulting from a shift to all-electric homes), while dismissing IMPLICITLY the most obvious solution.

Another poster has already called out Ms Listgarden for this glaring and irrational position. Her response: 'My take is that islanded homes are a private benefit, not a public benefit. Sort of like private schools. They should not be subsidized, and they should not come at the expense of the public grid.'

This statement is simply wrong. We already *cannot* have islanded homes. I've done the calculation for our home. For us to be all-electric, including a 10,000 mile/yr EV, we will consume 15,000 kWh per year. We can easily afford to install PV panels to supply that energy. BUT, we need enough battery storage, to carry 5,000 kWh from summer collection to winter consumption for heat. That would require approx. 300 Tesla PowerWalls: which require too much space (relative to our lot size), and far too much money (well over $1.5M). THEREFORE: we *must* be connected to the grid.

Residential PV customers must have a two-way meter; as seen by the grid, they can be either load, or source. Their role as a source will typically occur when the rest of the City grid is seeing high load (on a hot, sunny, August day). In that guise, CPAU *SHOU:D* subsidize installation of new residential PV sources.

Also, whether energy is pulled *from* the grid, or supplied *to* the grid, there must be a distribution cost above the commodity cost. This cost is evident for consumption; I'm in dialogue with CPAU to discover whether supplying energy to the grid also carries a cost.

If it does, then your arguments against residential suppliers of electricity, Sherry, are without merit.

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 8, 2022 at 9:32 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Most Tesla drivers will want to keep the power in their cars rather than download to the grid. I can't see any Tesla owner wanting to use their car as battery backup for power outage.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Feb 9, 2022 at 11:49 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Allen: Interesting thought! For better or worse, we have an electricity market that lives or dies by prices. It will always prefer the cheapest electricity of a given quality, so it is important that the prices correctly reflect the costs. With coal, for example, people often argue that the price is too cheap because it doesn’t include the externalities of the carbon pollution. But as-is, the market will opt for coal if it’s priced low, regardless of societal impact. Same with EV batteries, as they get integrated. If the price is right the market will go for them. (They are now on a level playing field with other types of generation via FERC 2222. That wasn’t the case a few years ago.)

Can the state put its thumb on the scale? Sure, policies and regulations can affect the cost and/or availability of EVs (and their batteries). So far these are generally *encouraging* EVs in order to hit emissions goals. If the state does over time succeed in discouraging car (EV) ownership, then the market will adapt as long as it doesn’t happen really quickly, which seems likely. For reference, you can see the market today moving away from solar (not available when needed) and hydropower (becoming less reliable) and towards geothermal (reliable, getting cheaper) and 4-hour batteries (available at peak times). In time 4-hour batteries will be so prevalent that the peaks will shift, as happened with solar, and the market will prefer longer-term storage. This is America. We trust in the market!

Your question, though, made me think about the social cost of carbon, and whether some would want it to apply to people (?!).

@Tom: Yes. I also think a free energy audit of the biggest users and/or of the users in grid-constrained areas might be useful. There are often low-hanging-fruit. (I still can’t believe what a difference replacing halogens with LEDs made in our house.) Or do foam roofs or attic insulation in bulk at a (somewhat) lower cost, because those make a huge difference. I also would love if CA stopped selling traditional AC units asap and only sold the quieter and more efficient heat pump A/C units, which households could then use for heat as gas prices get higher. A win-win. We should make it easy and rewarding for people to use less energy and use it at off-peak times.

@Holden: Flexing demand is the cheapest approach, but California does offer storage discounts (see SGIP program), though directed primarily to homes in PSPS areas as well as lower-income households.

Again, really interesting comments, thanks.

Posted by Erlinda , a resident of Danbury Park,
on Feb 10, 2022 at 8:44 pm

Erlinda is a registered user.

Thanks for opening up climate change topic.
To keep the electric power running needed a lot of fresh water. Anything that uses electricity uses water, buildings that use electric power. Air conditioners, plug-in vehicles. Those vehicles that uses fuels, they heat up while you're driving, especially when you get stock in traffic. Air conditioners blows heat. And too much heat dries up waters. Imagine everybody's using air conditioners when temperatures gets hotter plus traffic every where. How much heat that is to dries up our fresh water while we needed fresh water in those hot times.
In my opinion, why not minimize using those things that blows heat while keeping the demand of using electric power at the same time savings our water for us to keep moving forward. I believe so much in minimizing will give us longer life.
Save electricity and water for when we needed them the most especially when temperatures gets 90 degrees or much higher.
I don't think minimizing is hard to do than having a power outage for so long. Or be a victim of heatwave.

Posted by KarlWolff, a resident of Portola Valley,
on Feb 11, 2022 at 12:49 pm

KarlWolff is a registered user.

Fewer people in the Bay Area would be a great start...

Posted by Local Resident, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Feb 13, 2022 at 11:23 am

Local Resident is a registered user.


I continue to find your blog posts informative and interesting and am a fan. I agree with you we need Option 3. I would like to provide some points on why I believe rooftop solar + batteries should be part of Option 3 and is actually very beneficial and should be accelerated.

The current utility upgrade plan is based on upgrading electricity transportation infrastructure. Instead, spending some of that money on additional rooftop clean solar energy generation subsidies in a highly leveraged model could be a much bigger win. Because the property owner is using their own capital, installing the solar on their own property and paying their own maintenance and upkeep in exchange for only receiving a small subsidy relative to the total cost they are dramatically reducing the amount of public capital needed, which can then be used for other needs.

For example, with solar and a battery you now need much less electricity to your home and because of the battery you are putting only a tiny bit of electricity back onto the grid. Thus total input and output of electricity through the grid to and from your home is dramatically reduced. When many homes do this it reduces the total capacity needed for the neighborhood.

The problem with the green energy that Palo Alto buys on the open market is that it is from essentially a fixed supply. This means that every other city is competing for this same clean energy from wind farms, hydro and other clean power generation projects. Thus what Palo Alto buys, someone else does not get and has to burn fossil fuels to fill their energy need. Whereas rooftop solar across home, multi-family and business increases the total supply of clean energy.

Let's invest in rooftop solar power generation and batteries and reduce the amount of electrical grid infrastructure capacity we need.

Posted by Larry, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 13, 2022 at 1:11 pm

Larry is a registered user.


I think there is an argument that electrically “islanded" homes are indeed a public benefit, much in the same way that Covid vaccine mandates are a public benefit because they help preserve the hospital capacity we all rely on. Also, solar-equipped homes are more readily able to adopt local storage (Ambri, etc.) when it becomes widely available, so they would be the first to be able to send power back to the grid and help solve he peak-to-average problem that @Holden pointed out.

As you have mentioned before, solar-powered, locally stored neighborhood-scale “microgrids" are probably the most effective and, more importantly, the most scalable approach to grid decarbonization. This is where Palo Alto is uniquely suited to be a pioneer, since we have both the political will and our own utility infrastructure. Instead of just reaching our 80% GHG reduction goal then patting ourselves on the back come 2030, maybe instead Palo Alto should be developing community-level policies and infrastructure technologies that can then be applied everywhere, regardless of whether they help us meet the 80x30 goal or not. Then even if we miss the goal, our efforts will hopefully have made a net-positive contribution to climate change. After all, if it doesn't scale, it just doesn't matter.

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