May Your Holidays Be Efficient and Bright

2017 tree with LEDs

It’s that time of the year again! As you spend the holidays with friends and family, remember to be aware of your energy usage to avoid a higher than average bill. Energy consumption can easily sneak up on anyone during the holiday season. Here are a few tips to help make your holidays efficient and bright.

Lighting up the night sky.

If you choose to hang up lights this holiday season, consider purchasing ENERGY STAR® certified LED light strings. They brighten up your home without leaving you with a high energy bill. Not only do ENERGY STAR® certified LED lights use 75 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs, they are also brighter, more durable and last up to 10 times longer than other light strings.

LED lights are safer than traditional incandescent bulbs because they run at a lower temperature, but remember to check each string for frayed wires or damage before plugging them in. It is also important to turn lights off before going to bed or leaving your house. Consider purchasing a timer to automatically schedule when your lights turn off.

For additional tips on LED lights, read our Holiday LED Guide.

Staying warm and cozy.

Warming up next to a roaring fire is a favorite winter activity, but make sure to keep your flue damper closed when your fireplace is not in use – it should only be opened when a fire is burning. Eighty to ninety percent of the heat produced by a wood‑burning fireplace can be released through your chimney if the flue damper is incorrectly used.

Visit our Fireplace Efficiency Guide for more information. Always be sure to double‑check Spare the Air to make sure it is legal to use your fireplace on any given day.

Preparing your holiday feast.

Cooking a holiday meal can be stressful. Don’t let energy waste add to that stress. The California Energy Commission (CEC) has suggestions on how to save energy in your kitchen. Did you know that you should match the size of your stovetop burner to the size of the pan you cook with? For example, up to 40 percent of heat is wasted if you put a six‑inch pan on an eight‑inch burner. Choosing a microwave oven, slow cooker or electric skillet over your stovetop or oven is also an easy way to reduce your energy consumption.

To learn about additional ways to save energy year‑round, visit our 12 Easy Ways to Save Energy guide.

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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.

 

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.

Sparking Inspiration in Silicon Valley

Jeff Duncan of Silicon Valley Power in front of a ladder that leans against a utility pole.An adrenaline rush – that’s what a coal mine electrician experiences every day. The tough working conditions and challenging electrical problems in a mine test one’s endurance and ability to solve problems under pressure.  

After succeeding in this demanding workplace, Jeff Duncan was up for a new adventure. One year ago, he switched from the coal industry to the utility industry and moved to Santa Clara to work with us as an electric meter technician. Jeff made the switch because he wanted to work in a growing industry where he could develop new skills and advance his career. His love of Silicon Valley and technology made the decision to join our team even easier.  

As a meter technician, no day on the job is the same for Jeff. He has a range of responsibilities, from inspecting meters that are recording no usage to testing faulty wires. He also assists with Wi-Fi troubleshooting calls and resolves connectivity issues. While the electrical work itself remains similar, these applications are very different from his previous job. A techie, Jeff is happy to learn new skills on the job. “I see my job evolving to focus more on wireless communication services in the future,” Jeff says.  

Jeff has also found an encouraging community here at Silicon Valley Power, with colleagues who support his growth. “Every day is great when you are working around great people who can teach you new things,” Jeff says. In his free time, Jeff spends time with his wife and three daughters. They love to play family basketball games, setting aside quality time to exercise and have fun together.  

 

A Local Focus Brings Big Impact

Erica JueFor an energy and environmental policy professional, designing national and international regulations from Washington D.C. or New York City might seem like the ultimate end goal. But to Erica Jue, it was simply a starting point for creating meaningful and tangible change at a local level.

Throughout her early career, Erica worked on large-scale policy at a federal and global level. She was introduced to the energy sector through work with the California Environmental Protection Agency. After that, she honed her technical and policymaking skills at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Center for Clean Air Policy, developing energy forecasts and emissions impact analyses.

Then, in June of this year, Erica decided to join Silicon Valley Power (SVP) as a resource analyst. “My biggest motivation for this role was to move from working at the federal level to the local level. I felt that I could have more of an impact on the area that I live in and see how the work that I do impacts the community,” she said.

At SVP, Erica has found a new avenue for her background in economics and statistics and her creative spirit – she manages our renewable energy portfolio and helps us meet our carbon emission reduction goals. “I like that I am actually implementing those policies now,” said Erica. “Part of that implementation is having an effect not just on Santa Clara, because we do have a cleaner grid, but also nationally because we are setting an example for other regions.”

Her role also involves analyzing potential investments in renewables and the role of new technologies, such as fuel cells and energy storage. “What’s exciting about the industry is that there’s a lot of technological change,” she said. “Not only is the state willing to move forward on green power and innovative technologies, but the industry is too.”

Her refined career focus has accompanied a welcome lifestyle shift. “In my former life, I spent a lot of time in the city,” Erica said. “I love being able to spend more time outdoors now – gardening and hiking in the woods with my fiancé. We have the Sierras, the Redwoods, and the beach all so close by.”

Great news! Electric rates remain flat in 2018

Electricity rates in 2018 will remain flat, thanks to an abundant supply of inexpensive electricity from hydroelectric plants along with recent revenue growth from our business sector. This is in contrast to a series of recent rate increases made necessary by four years of drought that sharply reduced hydroelectric generation. 

The Santa Clara City Council adopted our proposed budget on June 13, 2017. The budget also reflects the ongoing cost of replacing aging infrastructure such as power poles, meeting the rising power transmission costs and replenishing reserves drawn down to buffer our rates during the drought. 

Holding to a zero rate increase is contingent upon legislators in Sacramento defeating a California Senate bill that would negatively impact our rates. SVP and other municipal utilities are working to educate legislators about the benefits of maintaining low rates for customers. 

In addition to the abundance of hydroelectric power, our diverse power resources such as wind, geothermal, solar and the City’s local modern natural gas plant provide managers with cost-effective choices to meet energy demand in the City. Our zero rate increase is in contrast to other nearby electric utilities that are raising rates by as much as 10 to 11 percent.