The blackout that shrouded San Diego in darkness in September demonstrated the problem with relying on power grids as they’re currently designed. The problem began at a substation in Arizona, and a series of triggering events caused failures all the way to San Onofre nuclear plant on the coast. At the cost of an estimated $100 million in damages, and major inconvenience to millions of people, the San Diego region received a crash course about the fragility of depending on a grid that runs mostly on distant sources of energy.
But it didn’t have to turn out this way. Four years ago a San Diego engineer, Bill Powers, published a groundbreaking report, San Diego Smart Energy 2020. The report was all about how to use off-the-shelf technologies in order to build and generate power locally to enhance the existing grid, and provide protection against these sorts of events. The report isn’t a pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It uses affordable technologies that are available and ready to deploy. It’s a practical guide that includes a 20 percent reduction in energy usage through existing efficiency measures and 2,000 megawatts of local solar projects. To back up the solar, which doesn’t generate at night, Powers’ report proposes 700 new megawatts of small co-generation facilities, similar to what is already in use at Qualcomm, UCSD, SDSU, and Children’s Hospital, which are highly efficient users of natural gas.