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COVID-19, severe weather and power outages

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Wildfire and hurricane season is here and with it comes an influx of weather-related power outages. Experts are warning that extreme weather events and natural disasters will be more frequent and intense this year and that this summer will be hotter than average. Power outages coinciding with elevated temperatures can quickly escalate into a public health catastrophe. Between 1999 and 2016, 10,000 deaths from the U.S. were imputed to heat vulnerability — ’s even much more deaths than hurricanes, tornadoes, or floods. The health consequences of electricity outages that summer are afield this year to COVID-19.

Over the past couple years, millions of individuals have lost electricity because of severe weather. The effects of these outages may be devastating. This is particularly true for the 2.5 million Americans who rely on electricity for home medical equipment, such as ventilators, electric wheelchairs and oxygen concentrators. Many more depend on electricity for air conditioning to prevent heat-induced medical complications and also for refrigeration of fever medication. Some state and utility leaders have made efforts to reduce health disparities through policies and programs in the event of an outage, but electricity-dependent populations remain vulnerable.

How health is impacted by electricity outages

After Hurricane Irma decimated the Southeast at 2017, twelve people died when a Florida nursing home lost electricity and its own ac system was not connected to the emergency generator. Nursing home staff and management mishandled the situation; patients dwelt temperatures reaching 100 degrees for days. In the wake of this catastrophe, Florida passed a law requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities to set up backup power generators which may run for 48-to-72 hours (depending on the facility).

Nursing homes must also have the ability to maintain building temperatures of no more than 81 levels. Before this month, a construction at an flat complex in Florida that serves seniors and individuals with disabilities lost electricity; because the center was an independent living center, there were no backup power requirements. Some residents considered sleeping with the AC runningothers couldn&rsquo.

In California, more than 2 million people lost electricity through 2019 Public Safety Preventative Shutoff (PSPS) occasions, utility-conducted power shutoffs during times of heightened wildfire risk. Despite needing to contact customers and alert them to the PSPS, Pacific Electric and Gas (PG&E) neglected to notify 23,000 customers — 500 of whom had health terms — concerning the upcoming PSPS event. Because of this, medically vulnerable citizens endured; a girl was forced to sleep in her wheelchair when her electricity-dependent mattress became inoperable and a single guy ’s wife woke him to tell him his oxygen concentrator stopped working and he wasn’t breathing.

In preparation, PG&E has been building an inventory of backup energy resources to offer emergency power through the 2020 wildfire season. Although community businesses have advocated for sustainable and long-lasting backup power resources, PG&E has been spending nearly $100 million over a fleet of portable generators to set up during PSPS. This plan effectively exposes communities, many of which are already addressing health and environmental disparities associated with pollution, to much more toxic emissions.

Power outage preparedness and COVID-19

Existing gaps in electricity outage preparedness is going to be exacerbated with COVID-19. Since the pandemic continues to spread, mass evacuation and sheltering operations such as fires, hurricanes and floods will be complicated by the chance of disease. Supporting sheltering-in-place strategies like installing backup energy systems in residences and facilities that are critical to get a power outage, could allow those vulnerable to COVID-19 to remain home or shelter from community spaces. Finally, if local assistance with backup energy is inaccessible people will depend on hospitals for maintenance, facilities that are overwhelming that are additional already managing the operational and capacity challenges.

Public health and emergency management officials recognize the dangers of severe weather, and they’ve designated public facilities to function as cooling centers, evacuation, mass maintenance centers and PSPS resource centers, in California. Many facilities are not able to provide solutions by means of an outage — including some critical community medical clinics and are not equipped with backup power. One recent poll of community and rural health centers in California found only 44% had a backup grid, even though 97% home vaccines and medications that require refrigeration. The exact same is true of residential configurations. Affordable home, assisted and independent living facilities and houses are rarely equipped with backup power systems, particularly in low-income communities. Most citizens can’t even afford the out-of-pocket costs and facilities functioning communities that are under-resourced oftentimes must contend with shoestring budgets and limited resources.

People that have backup electricity likely possess a gas or gas generatorthat emit noxious pollutants, may lead to carbon monoxide poisoning when operated, are prone to failure and provide zero economic benefits once the grid is usable ―harmful effects which could be rectified employing resilient electricity alternatives. Resilient electricity technology — battery storage, ideally paired with solar photovoltaics (solarstorage) — may equip critical facilities and residences with dependable backup power in the case of an outage. Besides providing electricity to operate lighting, communications, and equipment, solar storage may electricity charging channels such as electricity-dependent house medical equipment and heating for perishables and medication. During normal grid operations, through providing services solar storage may deliver utility expenses and also generate earnings in some cases.

Where do we go from here?

Access to dependable backup power sources, both in houses and in community facilities, may improve health outcomes and it’s essential as weather-related energy outages increase. States and utilities are responsible to the well-being of their residents they serve and should be in the forefront of developing pathways for vulnerable residents to access storage. Many have taken on this responsibility and, in doing so, have given a model for other states and utilities to embrace nationwide.

California Self-Generation Incentive Program

California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) is the strongest battery life storage incentive program from the country. SGIP offers tiered rebates for battery storage according to income and closeness to high wildfire risk areas. The program’s Equity Resilience incentive provides the highest rate and can offset an entire cost of a battery powered system. This bonus is specifically for low-income customers dwelling in high wildfire threat zones or in regions which have experienced multiple outages because of PSPS (both crucial facilities and residences are eligible). The application was bombarded with applications, earlier this year, when the capital for the incentive have been published. This July, the app hope to have the next round of funding (upwards of $500 million) to be published.

Since California originally launched their battery storage incentive program, several other nations have followed suit, including New York. Furthermore, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to add behind-the-meter battery storage at a state energy efficiency plan, allowing utility customers to be compensated for installing mobile storage systems which engage in grid solutions, such as demand charge management.

Green Mountain Power, Vermont

While utilities across the country have begun recognizing the worth of electricity resilience the best case of a residential electricity program is Green Mountain Power’therefore. In 2017, Green Mountain Power (GMP), the largest utility in Vermontthat opened a pilot for 2,000 customers to get battery storage methods (Tesla Powerwalls). One hundred of those systems were provided to low-income customers which relied on electricity for medical functions in no-cost. As electricity went outside for Vermonters during severe snowstorms and higher wind events, customers with Tesla Powerwalls reported more than seven hours of backup power. GMP’s wider client base also benefitted — battery life storage units in GMP’s service territory cancel energy during the highest peak demand annually, resulting in $600,000 at ratepayer savings.

GMP has since expanded their battery life storage offerings, though there aren’t any more subsidized batteries available to customers. Current programs include a Bring-Your-Own-Device alternative and a chance to rent a battery for $55 per month more than ten years (or customers can make a one-time payment of $5,500).

Besides the efforts outlined previously, utilities and more states will need to reevaluate well-being and the health of the most vulnerable residents and expand accessibility to electricity technologies that are resilient. There’s no reason someone should face a emergency because of a power outage.

The article COVID-19, harsh weather and electricity outages appeared first on Renewable Energy World.

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