A recent government study found that the probability of a major earthquake in the Bay Area is 70% within the next three decades. What would happen to our power system if an earthquake the same magnitude as the infamous 1906 quake occurred again?
The City and County of San Francisco looked into that question. While 96% of the city’s consumers could expect their electricity to be back on-line within one week, full restoration of power could take a full month, with natural gas taking six months.
What can we do? A prudent move would be to create microgrids – little islands of power that can keep power flowing when the larger PG&E systems go down.
In response to extreme weather, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states are all investing in microgrids. East Coast storms such as Sandy are actually less threatening than an earthquake. Why? The science of forecasting hurricanes has made great strides, so communities can at least prepare for the oncoming storm. You never know when an actual earthquake will hit.
California has more frequent power outages since 2008 than any other state: over 500 at last count. Along with the inconvenience of losing electricity — and the tragedy of lost lives — power outages impose a major hit on the economy, almost $200 billion annually.
What is San Francisco doing about this looming threat? It is moving forward with its own quiet microgrid plan. Emergency shelters, hospitals and schools have been analyzed for available rooftop space for solar panels and the logistics of installing batteries. A dozen microgrid projects scattered throughout the city that are now inching forward.
San Francisco’s microgrid program is a small step in the right direction. It’s time to speed up the process and have other Bay Area communities follow suit.
With a Perspective, I’m Peter Asmus.
Peter Asmus works has been researching and analyzing energy issues for more than 25 years.