Keeping It in the Family: Growing A Career and a Community Network at SVP

Working in the utility sector runs in Shreya Kodnadu’s family. Growing up, Shreya machu picchu - shreya solovisited substations and generation facilities in Bangalore, India, where her father worked. She took this passion with her to her undergraduate studies in Bangalore and then to Washington State University in 2010, where she received her master’s degree. Then, after more than three years as a protection engineer at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman, Washington, and a stint at Pennsylvania Power and Light, Shreya joined SVP in 2016 as a protection electrical engineer.

At SVP, Shreya works on programming and testing protective relays and analyzing power outage data. In her daily role, Shreya performs power system studies, compiles data to makes complex calculations and analyses, and troubleshoots problems with utility equipment and facilities. She loves that her job focuses on safety, reliability and helping the community. Shreya explained, “My favorite part of the job is working for the community. I can make a difference and see how my work directly affects Santa Clara residents and businesses.”

With the strong relationships Shreya has built at SVP, she is happy to be a part of the SVP family. “Not only is SVP serving Santa Clara residents and businesses, but I really enjoy the tight‑knit community at work. I continue to learn from and enjoy the company of my amazing colleagues. Collectively we work toward the same mission. That is why I love coming to work every day.”

When Shreya is not at work, she enjoys traveling and exploring the great outdoors. Shreya shared, “I love taking advantage of the outdoors, both locally and abroad. In 2015, my husband and I went on a six‑day backpacking trip to Machu Picchu, Peru, and I loved every moment. We look forward to our next backpacking adventure in Patagonia this winter.”

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Does Energy Storage Make Sense for Your Home?

If you have ever thought about adding solar to your home, you have probably wondered, “How can I save my solar power to use when the sun is not shining?” Or maybe the last time you experienced a power outage, you thought, “What can I do the next time the power goes out?” Over the past few years, battery storage systems have become a more popular solution for these situations. In Santa Clara, residents can benefit from using battery storage systems in the following ways.

Backup Power

Battery storage provides backup power to keep day‑to‑day conveniences and necessities running. For example, battery storage allows your refrigerator to maintain its temperature during a power outage. This can prevent food from going bad. In emergencies there are various uses for battery storage, such as to provide uninterrupted power for the lights to stay on to keep household members safe. Lessening power downtime can also help prevent disruption for people, such as the elderly, who may depend on electricity for life support and mobility in their homes.

Solar System Pairing

Battery storage can help you maximize your solar system. Batteries are able to store the power your solar panels generate during the day for your home to use later at night. Without a battery, your home will need electricity from the grid when you use power in the evening. Pairing your solar system with a battery is the best way for your home to utilize all of the energy your solar system generates.

Battery Storage Power Options

Power for battery storage does not only have to come from solar. Battery storage can also be charged by the grid. Similar to solar‑powered battery storage, a battery that is charged with power from the grid can be used to provide electricity during a power outage. The concept is similar to that of a portable battery to charge your mobile phone. Whether the source is solar power or the grid, battery storage can provide the same convenience for your home.

Santa Clara residents should carefully evaluate their energy needs and interests when considering battery storage for their homes. For more information, view our previous blog post on the basics of battery storage.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

Anatomy of a Power Outage in Santa Clara

Be Prepared for a Power OutageIt’s 1 a.m. on a January eveningand strong winds are blowing through Santa Clara. A palm frond breaks loose and flies into a power line. Lights in nearby homes flicker and then go out. Customers begin reaching out to us to see if they are the only customer without power and when power will be restored. But what’s going on behind the scenes? While every power event is different, here’s a look inside a typical outage.

Operational Center: When the palm frond shorts out the line, a control operator at our operational center sees an alarm on the monitor; a short circuit “fault” has completely shut down a circuit covering multiple neighborhoods within the city. As a safety measure, the automatic response system does not attempt to restore power to the area until it can be inspected for damage and safety, and ultimately re-energized by our personnel.

The control operator immediately alerts managers, customer service, and dispatch. Shortly after the first alarm, a troubleshooter is sent out to begin tracing the problem. In a large outage like this, the customer service team begins posting to social media and they’re called in to start fielding calls from residents. Sometimes residents can provide information that helps pinpoint the exact location of the issue, which is often helpful after dark.

Distribution Substation: Still unaware of the exact cause, our substation electrician heads to the distribution substation nearest to the affected area to determine if the problem stems from the substation itself, or the distribution line that showed an alarm. The electrician identifies that the issue is within the distribution line and alerts the control operator, who directs the troubleshooter to begin inspecting the lines of the affected circuit.

Power Checkpoints: The troubleshooter inspects circuit indicators on checkpoints along power poles and in readily accessible underground vaults located every few blocks, following the flashing warning signals along the circuit. When the troubleshooter finds a checkpoint with normal, non-flashing indicator, it means the problem is between that check point and the previous one inspected. Many times, the troubleshooter will begin isolating the problem area and restore power to residents in cleared zones.

Issue Area: The troubleshooter soon finds the palm frond that has landed below the power lines. Fortunately, the power lines have not been damaged. However, the palm frond has been scorched by 12,000 volts of electricity. The crew informs the operator that all is clear. The electrician at the substation resets the sensors, initiates all safety checks, and enables power to flow back through the circuit.

Nearby Homes: The cause and location of the outage determines the time to restore power to customers, and it is important for our staff to conduct safety inspections before returning power to affected circuits. If the problem section of the line can be isolated, many customers can have power restored just minutes after the problem is identified.

Our team works hard to ensure minimal power disruption, but power restoration times vary and some occurrences are beyond our control. When an unexpected power outage like this occurs, we want you to be ready. To prepare your home for when the lights do go out, check out our power outage preparation tips.

Going Pole to Pole

Power line repairHow often do you think about the utility poles in your neighborhood? You may not think about this utility infrastructure when you make that overdue phone call to Mom, send a last-minute work email, or host Friday night movie night, but it’s all made possible by the utility lines running through Santa Clara and the poles that connect them.

As modern communications evolve, more equipment and more cables are added to poles: Cables for power and telephones are joined by lines for cable television and internet services and more wires become necessary to serve more subscribers. This additional weight can cause pole loads to exceed safe levels. Every utility pole has a defined amount of weight and stress that it can handle from attached equipment and weather conditions, as determined by the California Public Utilities Commission. When the pole weights exceed these safety levels, unsafe conditions such as power outages and fires can occur.

Today, utility poles across California are approaching this overloaded status more and more frequently. For example, one region in southern California has seen up to 22 percent of its utility poles reach overloaded status. To keep our community connected and safe, our team is taking comprehensive measures to ensure our community’s utility poles are up-to-date. We’re currently undertaking a multiyear pole inspection program to investigate 10,000 poles and crossarms in Santa Clara for symptoms of overloading and decay.

This information will be stored in a database, which will provide us with an accurate view of every pole in the field, help us create new pole designs, and track overloaded poles. Our new database will also work with pole loading software to analyze features such as pole strength, wire and equipment attachments, environmental factors, and any interactions of these elements that influence a pole’s structural integrity.

With this system, we’ll be able to see when poles need to be updated or replaced before a problem occurs. For example, this spring our crews are set to replace over 45 poles and numerous crossarms with new structures. All crossarms are made with newer composite materials that are stronger and more resilient to wind and other weather than traditional wood materials.

Our team is always on the lookout for new technologies that can improve our services and keep our customers connected. While at first glance utility poles may not seem like an obvious source of technological progress, bringing you more durable infrastructure allows us to provide the reliable service you expect.

Your local power grid – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

No one likes an unexpected surprise like a car breakdown or a heater that suddenly stops working. That’s why most of us do preventative maintenance on our cars and home. It’s the same logic and due diligence that we apply when we perform inspections on our equipment and repair or replace items like power poles when needed.

Many of our power poles and cross arms have held up for more than 40 years, but it’s time to be sure they remain up to the job of reliably carrying electricity to our customers. We’ve contracted with Osmose Utilities Services to perform inspections on all of our power poles over the next five years to improve reliability and perform preventative maintenance.

Customers affected by this important effort are being notified by letter several weeks prior to work in their area. In some cases Osmose will need to access backyards to perform the inspection. We know privacy is very important, so as a courtesy Osmose will first knock on the door to let you know they need to enter your property. If no one answers the door, Osmose will enter the backyard and perform the power pole inspection. If the gate is locked and inspectors cannot access the power pole, they’ll leave a door hanger asking for you to contact SVP with a time to complete the inspection.

Working hours are 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, Monday through Friday and each inspection can take 20-40 minutes. Residents may also see SVP crews in neighborhoods for Saturday appointments. Osmose inspectors will have identification indicating they are a contractor for the City of Santa Clara. It’s always a good idea to ask to see the ID, or call us if you are unsure.

We‘re doing everything possible to minimize the impact of this critical maintenance work and we apologize in advance for any inconvenience this might cause. Customers with questions or concerns are welcome to contact us at (408) 244-7283.

This work increases the reliability of your power. As with a car or a home, we feel that it is wise to inspect, maintain and/or repair equipment rather than wait until there’s a problem that could have been prevented.