Snowmaggedon and Resilience

Written by Hunter Lovins

“Did you see that?!” 

“What?” I pulled my head out of my pillow and squinted in the dark at my husband.

“A big flash,” he reported. “And now the power’s out. I think a transformer blew.” 

In the growing dawn I could see branches sagging under heavy snow. 

“I’d best go unplug the Leaf.” Our solar system with SimpliPhi batteries in the garage will run our house effectively indefinitely, but our trusty electric vbehicle pulls a lot of load. If we’re on power conservation mode, it’s best to wait to charge it until the solar system is getting lots of photons. Normally it’s great: I drive for free, my power stored during the day and trickled from the batteries into my car each evening. 

This time, our rural coop lost power for the better part of three days. Snowmagedden left parts of Northern Boulder County bereft of electricity. But not our ranch. We called the neighbors, as we do in such times, offering warmth, phone charging and Internet access.

This is a challenge not created by Covid. It reminded me, yet again, that our life support systems are not resilient. But, this challenge I’d prepared for. Years ago I’d gotten a one-time payout, which I spent installing a solar system that powers my home, fuels my EV and sells any excess to the utility. If I need more power than the batteries have stored, I buy it from the same utility. But if the grid goes down, the system stands alone. My husband groused at the cost until the floods of 2013 took power out for a week. Since then, the system has kept us toasty, our fridge cold, our rooms lit and computers connected many times. It was a luxury when I put it in. Now, doubling the size of our system would cost one fifth of my original investment. Every time the power goes out I wonder why everyone doesn’t have a system like this. 

The Coalition’s Climate Change and Energy working group was just talking about this. As renewable energy becomes cheaper everywhere than coal, oil, gas or nuclear, what is the best system architecture, as Colorado transitions to a 100% carbon free grid? Should the utilities own it all and retain their monopoly business model? They would like that. But under that scenario, I’d be freezing in the dark with my neighbors. As the people of Texas did a few weeks ago when the climate change-driven storm hit there. Replicating my system across Colorado would be far more resilient. Such distributed generation, intertied to the grid, would support job creation, and lower system costs for everyone. But this won’t happen unless we demand it.