Battery Storage 101: How does it work in the home?

On a stormy night, a tree falls on a nearby power line and you watch as the houses on your street go dark. Your lights go out for a moment and then quickly come back on. Your home continues to buzz with the sounds of the TV, the dishwasher and your refrigerator. In the garage, your energy storage device has noted the outage on the grid and shifted into power delivery mode. This protects your home from the power outage. 

This scene shows the power of battery storage and how it works. While unplanned outages don’t occur often in Santa Clara, storage can be a useful tool for residents with outage‑sensitive needs, such as medical devices. Storage also helps residents avoid being inconvenienced by an outage.  

Battery storage is a type of energy storage system that pairs a lithium‑ion battery (with or without rooftop solar panels) to store energy in your home for later use. Storage devices charge when excess energy is produced. The battery releases the energy when it is desired or most needed, such as during an outage. The stored power can be used as a backup to help lessen outage effects.  

While energy storage can be used for vital backup during an outage, the stored energy can also be used for everyday needs. Residents may choose to use stored power during the evening to increase solar power usage and reduce energy drawn from the grid. 

Residents with energy storage still remain tied to the electric grid for regular service. Stored energy can power the home during an emergency if the battery is charged, but the grid provides power when there isn’t enough energy stored in the battery. For instance, powering appliances such as air conditioners may require more energy than the battery can deliver. 

According to a McKinsey report on battery storage, prices have fallen over 77 percent since 2010. However, the benefits can offset the costs in some cases. Today, storage systems can save customers money if they live in an area with high electricity costs and plenty of sun. Given our low electricity rates, the use of battery storage in Santa Clara may be driven by interest in the technology or by using storage to boost usage of solar power from your rooftop.

 

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The Power of Community

Public Power Wee LogoThere are many reasons to celebrate the Santa Clara community and having access to local, high quality electricity service is an important one. Every October, public power utilities, including Silicon Valley Power (SVP), celebrate Public Power Week to recognize over 2,000 utilities across the nation that are community-owned, not-for-profit organizations. Unlike other cities that have to rely on large investor-owned utilities, Santa Clara benefits from having a municipally-owned utility that cares about making our city a rewarding place to live. A local business model makes sure that customers can count on responsiveness and investments in community growth, as well as continued affordable rates ensured by our not-for-profit status.

In addition to being invested in the success of Santa Clara, our team is also a part of the community. Our local expertise allows us to create programs and services that are tailored to the needs of Santa Clara’s residents. Our initiatives include investments in free outdoor Wi-Fi throughout the city, student scholarships, and a Tool Lending Library to contribute to the growth of Santa Clara’s economy and a high quality of life for all residents.

As a public power entity, we are also able to make a direct impact on creating a sustainable future for Santa Clara. When the community began to show interest in renewable energy, we launched Santa Clara Green Power, a 100 percent green power option available to all residents and businesses. We also offer a full suite of energy efficiency rebates for residents and businesses, free home energy audits, and energy efficiency resources for our business customers to help our customers improve the comfort of their homes and facilities while saving energy and money.

Sponsoring and enjoying regular community events is another benefit to our local operations. Each year, we look forward to supporting events that allow our friends and neighbors to connect over local entertainment, such as the annual Fourth of July fireworks and the holiday tree lighting ceremony.

As your locally-owned utility and trusted energy advisor, we’re proud to play an integral role in the Santa Clara community!

A Passion for Teaching: Mentoring Peers from Silicon Valley to Suriname

Fourteen years ago, Dawid Coetzee, one of our electric crew foremen, moved to the U.S.SVP Lineman Dawid Coetzee with his two young sons holding fish in front of their boat on a lake. from South Africa and fell in love with the adventurous, fearless nature of the jobs performed by lineworkers. As he became more experienced, he joined our team and eventually was made the leader of his own crew. The role is a natural fit for Dawid, who enjoys teaching and mentoring. Working for SVP has given him the opportunity to assist Santa Clara’s residents and businesses, his crew members and faraway communities.

As a utility worker in Santa Clara, Dawid enjoys being part of a power-intensive, technology-driven community that maintains its small-town values. Today, he builds and maintains power lines throughout the region with a tight-knit, 20-person team.

An experienced electric worker, Dawid serves as a thoughtful and caring mentor to the new apprentices in the organization. The long duration of a multiyear apprenticeship combined with the challenges of electric work make this a tough program for lineworkers in training. Dawid takes these individuals under his wing and teaches them not only how to complete tasks but also tricks of the trade so they can do well in their roles. He enjoys finding something new to learn or teach at every job site, no matter how big or small.

Dawid takes this same teaching approach beyond the Santa Clara community. Earlier this year, he traveled to Suriname, in South America, to host a safety training for local lineworkers and share his best practices. During the trip, he met lineworkers who were tackling extreme conditions in the Amazon with very few resources. The experience gave him a new perspective on his work, and he hopes to return to Suriname next year with new training that is specific to the needs of the country.

In his free time, Dawid enjoys traveling to the Eastern Sierra mountains with his wife and kids to camp, swim, fish and boat. His love of the outdoors brings him to the mountains and the ocean on a regular basis, giving him to time to explore California’s diverse natural environments.

Providing Mutual Aid for the Carr Fire

On Sunday, ten of our field crew members headed to Redding with two digger derricks, two bucket trucks, a 4×4 crew truck, and two foreman trucks to provide mutual aid to the Redding Electric Utility (REU) in response to the Carr Fire. They will spend the next 10-14 days assisting the REU crews in rebuilding the damaged electric distribution system, working 16 hour days to accomplish repairs as quickly as they safely can. We are proud to be supporting our fellow public power utility, and appreciate the mutual aid arrangements that can help utilities to rebuild after a natural disaster.

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How will renewable power affect the reliability of your electricity?

Reliability’ describes how often power outages happen and how quickly the power Wind farm - with logocomes back on. Today, Santa Clara has a high overall system reliability that is aided by our diverse power mix.

What happens when renewable power is added? For utilities and state operators, maintaining reliability will become more complex. Renewable electricity can come from small energy producers in many different locations. For instance, each home with a solar rooftop system produces energy that affects the grid. This can make planning for a steady supply of electricity difficult.

However, even with a more complex process, we will continue providing the same reliable power you expect. Our team is exploring new technologies and processes, like energy storage, that will help us adopt a cleaner power mix and maintain high‑quality service.

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO), the body that manages California’s electric grid, is in charge of planning how renewables will flow on the grid. CAISO is currently testing tools such as demand response, a larger regional power market to balance electricity flow and energy storage to support this increase in renewables.

Utilities will be a key part of this change. Utility employees will need to develop new skills and styles of teamwork. They will also need to use new automation tools to support renewable power and manage the flow of electricity. Operators will watch automated models, check for correctness and take over manually when needed. The process will look like a pilot flying a modern commercial plane, using automation for most of the flight.

Adopting renewables helps us secure a clean future, but the process requires a careful balance in our operations. Our team is dedicated to managing the process while focusing on our customers’ needs. Visit our website for more information on reliability and our power mix.

Investing in Energy Careers for Santa Clara Students

2018 Scholarship Recipients
2018 Scholarship Recipients Ismael Laymoun (left) and Rafael Tolosa (right). (Not pictured: James Wang)

Once again, we have invested in some of our community’s brightest academic stars by granting $5,000 scholarships to Santa Clara students working toward careers in energy, electric utilities, and public power. Through the SVP Scholarship program, we also hope to increase interest in careers in the energy sector. As utilities face an aging workforce, we are excited to see local students who are inspired by different energy careers.

The 2018 winners are:

Ismael Laymoun is a recent Santa Clara High School graduate aiming for an engineering degree. He currently attends Mission College and enjoys hands-on science activities. Laymoun plans to develop energy-efficiency tools.

Rafael Tolosa is a recent graduate from Wilcox High School. He is interested in studying how the economy affects the energy sector. In college, he plans to study economics and finance. He has been active in local community groups, such as the Wilcox High School student body and rotary club.

James Wang is an engineering and environmental science student at Santa Clara University. Wang hopes to improve power systems and work on environmentally responsible engineering projects. In his free time, he helps local teachers develop engineering lessons.

We proudly honor these students who are committed to making a difference through energy careers. Recipients were presented with their scholarships at the City Council meeting on July 10, 2018.

We will begin accepting scholarship applications for the 2019-2020 school year starting on October 1, 2018. Students must live in Santa Clara or attend a school in Santa Clara to qualify. Watch for more details this fall.

EnergyAlert Keeps Businesses in Santa Clara Informed

Transmission lines with wind turbines in the backgroundWhen you’re at home blow‑drying your hair or cooking with an electric grill and the lights dim for a second as you plug in these devices, the electrical capacity available to the lighting in your home is briefly decreased due to the number of high-wattage appliances in use at the same time. A similar process occurs on a much grander scale when there is a short circuit on the transmission grid, reducing the voltage below where it should be for a split second and causing commercial production to stop or glitch. In Santa Clara, this affects data centers, businesses who work with critical materials in technology and production, and other large‑scale operations that have extensive power requirements.

While power quality events only happen a few times a year today, these incidents used to be much more frequent in the South Bay region, occurring up to 20‑25 times per year. To address this, nearly 20 years ago our team launched EnergyAlert, a notification system that informs local businesses 24/7 when a power quality event occurs. This information allows customers to respond quickly during an event and take action to minimize disruptions to their operations.

Visit our website for more information on EnergyAlert and how the program has supported Santa Clara businesses for decades.

Santa Clara Customers Lead the Nation

Solar Panel Array with Santa Clara Green Power program logoSanta Clara has a higher proportion of its residents and businesses participating in a renewable energy program than most communities in the nation. While our city is known for its leadership and advancements in technology, we are also leading the path to a more sustainable future. Our Santa Clara Green Power program has once again been honored as one of the National Renewable Energy Lab’s (NREL) Top 10 utility green power programs in the nation.   

Santa Clara Green Power is a voluntary program that allows Santa Clara residents and businesses to match 100 percent of their electricity usage with solar power, 80 percent of which is sourced from California. Participation in Santa Clara Green Power has grown to 9.35 percent in 2017, indicating the rising importance of renewables to our community members. The program also achieved the second highest green power sales with a rate of 12.15 percent in 2017. As the community grows increasingly concerned about climate change, Santa Clara Green Power offers the ability for all interested customers to support renewables, opening up access to green power to customers without solar rooftop systems.   

2017 marks the twelfth year that Santa Clara Green Power has been recognized by NREL and the third consecutive year that the program has been awarded three top honors. Santa Clara has also been nationally recognized as one of the EPA’s top five Green Power Communities. Our customers continue to demonstrate Santa Clara’s future-focused outlook on energy as we integrate sustainability into our city’s everyday operations.    

We launched Santa Clara Green Power as a direct response to our customers’ desire for green power and choice in their electricity service. We are proud to offer service that is tailor-made for Santa Clara. Visit our website for more information and to sign up for Santa Clara Green Power today.  

Making waves as a power engineer

ChrisKarwick2At twenty-three years old, Chris Karwick was working as a merchant marine engineering officer aboard a commercial ship in Antarctica when he found himself in a perilous situation: The ship had become trapped in a thick sheet of ice due to engine failure. Days passed with no solution, and Chris, a manager with several direct reports, was asked for advice and direction. Together with other crew members, Chris helped organize a makeshift repair to the engine that allowed the ship to break free from the ice pack and be towed safely to New Zealand.  

High-stakes experiences like this have shaped Chris’ ability to think quickly on his feet and communicate in tough situations. After traveling the world, Chris decided to settle down in Silicon Valley and bring his engineering and leadership talents to the utilities and power generation sector.  

In his role as the Division Manager of Power Generation, Chris oversees our power generation assets inside and outside of Santa Clara, such as the Donald Von Raesfeld Power Plant and the Stony Gorge Hydroelectric Facility. On a day-to-day basis, he makes sure that power is produced and dispatched properly, that our operations meet environmental standards, and that the power generation staff maintains a safe workplace. Building off his past experience managing others, Chris enjoys helping his team members develop their skills.  

In his free time, Chris loves spending time with his wife and two kids in Santa Cruz camping, fishing, and enjoying the outdoors. He rekindles his sense of adventure as often as possible and tries to pass on his love of travel to his children.

 

The Science Behind Balloon-Caused Outages

Boquet of balloons near power linesOn a hot summer day, you’re barbecuing in the backyard to celebrate a birthday with family and friends. The yard is filled with great food, crepe decorations, and birthday balloons. In good spirits, your friend hands a shiny metallic balloon to your young nephew, who promptly releases the balloon into the sky.

As you look up, the balloon quickly approaches a power line just above the backyard. The balloon makes contact. Suddenly, there is a flash, with sparks shooting in every direction, and the power goes out throughout the neighborhood.

Why does this happen? The shiny balloon is made of a material called Mylar. While Mylar is a nonconductive plastic, the external coating of this type of balloon contains metal, making it a conductor of electricity. When the balloon’s conductive coating hits the active electrical line, this creates a momentary spike in electricity and short‑circuits the power line, resulting in potential outages, fires, and damage to equipment. The explosive reaction often resembles this clip of a Mylar balloon hitting a power line in Long Beach, California.

In addition to its dangerous coating, a Mylar balloon is also more likely to run into a power line than any other type of balloon, such as a latex balloon. The metal coating makes the balloon airtight, preventing the helium from escaping through the material and allowing the balloon to stay inflated for up to two weeks longer than other balloons. This significantly increases the chances of power line contact. While any helium balloon can create damage from hitting an electrical line, Mylar balloons tend to be the worst.

To avoid unnecessary power outages, damage, and injuries, follow these precautionary steps when celebrating with helium balloons:

  • Keep balloons indoors when possible
  • Tie down balloons with a weight
  • Never release balloons outside
  • Puncture balloons before disposing of them

If you see a balloon stuck in a power line, don’t try to remove it or touch the power equipment. Call our Utility Control Center at (408) 615-5640 for assistance.