Silicon Valley Power recognized as a top utility in reliability

Safety and reliability are always our highest priorities. Our success in these two key RP3 Award 2019areas was recently recognized when we were designated as a Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3) at the Gold Level by the American Public Power Association during the Association’s annual Engineering & Operations Conference. This designation, which lasts for three years, acknowledges public power utilities that excel in four major areas of operation: reliability, safety, workforce development and system improvement. It is a high honor that reflects our continued commitment to our customers and employees, as well as our leadership in the Santa Clara community.

We are proud to have earned our place as a top-tier public power utility. We will continue to strive for the same standard of excellence in all areas of our organization. To further this mission, we recently developed our 2018 Strategic Plan. With help from our community, customers, City Council and City executive leadership, we outlined our objectives for the next 10 years. The plan paves the way for our team to continue providing safe, reliable service to our customers. It will also guide us as we develop innovative and sustainable solutions to any challenges we may face. Our Strategic Plan will enable the growth we need to continue standing out as a top-tier public power entity.

 

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A Faster, Electric Commute

At Silicon Valley Power, we support projects that help the environment, grow the local economy and make our residents’ lives easier. Our most recent effort is the Caltrain Electrification Project, in partnership with Caltrain. This project will introduce new, electric trains to replace some of the current fossil fuel‑consuming trains that run between the San Francisco Fourth and King Street Station and the San Jose Tamien Station.

Not only will the new electric trains be more environmentally friendly, but they will also be faster, more reliable and quieter. Caltrain predicts that electric trains will lead to a 21 percent increase in ridership by 2040, with a corresponding reduction in the number of cars on the road, leading to a whopping 619,000 vehicle miles of reduced traffic congestion and 176,000 metric tons of reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Electrification will undoubtedly be a giant leap forward for a commuter train system that started in 1863 and has undergone several evolutions before becoming the Caltrain that we know today in the 1980s.

According to Caltrain, the project is expected to generate $2.5 million in regional economic benefits, and the work is expected to be completed in 2022. As part of this project, our crews will be working near Santa Clara Caltrain tracks on the west side of the City through May 2019. Residents and businesses will be notified in advance of planned outages in their neighborhoods. Our current expectation is that we may need to access a small number of properties during these planned outages to complete the work. If this is the case, affected residents will receive notice ahead of time.

If you have questions about the Caltrain Electrification Project, visit calmod.org/resources, email Caltrain at calmod@caltrain.com or call them at 650-399-9659.

What Are Those Big Nets?

Over the past few weeks, you may have noticed large nets hanging over street PG&E Nets Across Montague Expyintersections north of the Bayshore freeway. While these nets may look like flying trapeze safety nets, unfortunately you will not see any acrobats flying through the Santa Clara skies.

The nets are actually being used as a safety precaution for Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) crew members. PG&E is currently upgrading some of its existing transmission lines, conductors, and insulators in order to meet growing customer load needs. Large nets are installed during these upgrades as a safety precaution for line workers on the job. In addition to the nets, you may also see PG&E trucks and crews working in your neighborhood as a part of the upgrades.

The project is scheduled to be completed in April 2019. If you have any questions or want any more information about the upgrades, please email ElectricReliability@pge.com.

Visit our Projects page on our website to stay up to date on all of our current projects throughout the city.

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.”

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.