Florida Power and Light lobbyists made it illegal to use solar during outages


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2017/09/18/rep-ray-rodrigues.html


#2

The Sunshine State!


#3

I’m sure people in that position carefully considered their options.

  • Make sure isolation switch disconnects house from grid.
  • Ponder going powerless while Florida Power fixes stuff.
  • Break wind.
  • Let there be light!

#4

Land of the free!*

*except when you’re freedoms, life etc.conflicts with business profits.


#5

Isn’t that what coal is for? /s


#6

Catch-22 is that you can’t go off-grid.


#7

Like with electric vehicles and roads maintained with gas taxes, the introduction of solar power is reducing the cash flow needed to maintain the copper infrastructure. This is just an economic fact. How FPL chose to deal is pretty draconian and we are seeing the unintended consequences. I have a Gennie when my power goes. It is tied into my main service panel with a mechanical interlock switch that prevents me from energising the grid when my gennie is running. It takes no special knowledge to flip the switch and it is idiot proof in that if I am getting power from the city I cannot get power from the gennie and vice versa.

The only real difference here is that if I am augmenting my home with solar it has to play nice with the city power.

FPL seems to be just being greedy and not very practical


#8

Money might be one of the cynical reasons they don’t want people using solar during an outage. Rather weak reasoning that would seem to rely on hoping people will be less likely to install solar if it doesn’t give them power back up option. But I totally get the mandatory disconnect-from-the-grid-while -we fix-stuff rule. If you were a power line repair person, would you trust your fellow Floridian to not send voltage into the system while you are working on it? Those transformers work both ways.

As for net metering, it’s going to have to change. Most likely to splitting the power charges from the line charges. A flat line charge would hurt low power users the most. A fairer system would be a line charge by the kW/hr regardless of the direction. Power would be billed or credited closer to the wholesale rate at the moment of use.


#9

i don’t think FPL is unique in this, there really is a safety issue here. they don’t want solar feeding into the grid when the grid is down, as workers can definitely be electrocuted. PGE and SCE do the same thing.

the other problem is that almost every system is grid-tied, and so the inverters need to see the grid power to synchronize their output with the grid. the inverters simply will not work unless they see the 60hz from the grid.

my inverter has a small, unsynchronized output that can provide about 1kw while the grid is down. it’s just a regular plug hanging down from the inverter itself. any solar customer in florida that happens to have an SMA inverter with one of those outlets is free to use them.


#10

That makes sense if the panels are feeding excess power back into the grid, which is what most solar installations have.


#11

yep, storage has not really been a thing until now, so almost every PV solar system uses the grid as a “battery”, which is what net metering is all about.

the 1.0 net metering rules are not bad in and of themselves; PGE pays retail for the energy that i export. the evil they have definitely done is define peak cost hours to be outside of the peak of solar generation. it’s too bad the CPUC gave them this latitude. what PGE and SCE have floated several times is forcing customers to pay retail for power imported, but only receive wholesale rates for energy exported to the grid. that would be a disaster in that everyone’s systems have been sized to take advantage of the retail export rate.

with the advent of large, cheap batteries (powerwall, etc.) disconnecting from the grid might become a reality, but it will cost solar customers $$$ to upgrade inverters and pay for batteries.


#12

Geez, what a buzzkill! Can’t you leave us alone to enjoy our blind outrage?


#13

Yeah, it’s not like the article mentions taking yourself off the grid so you’re not feeding power in takes a simple idiot-proof switch Florida Power and Light forbids using during an outage.


#14

@doctorow ,

This is just false information that was making the rounds on reddit yesterday. There is almost zero truth to this article.

While FPL has done some incredibly shady stuff involving solar power in Florida, their legal maneuvering has nothing to do with Floridians not being able to use their solar panels during a power outage. Typical solar panels don’t work during a power outage, and the special kind that do work during a power outage are not installed on residential houses(and if they are installed FPL has zero jurisdiction).

Reason solar stops working:
PV(photovoltaic) inverters are required to meet UL 1741 requirements. UL 1741 is just enforcement of IEEE 1547. This IEEE standard is actually federal law. This is unique, most UL listings are not a federally-mandated requirement. This was a special Bush-era provision. I invite you to research it and read more.
-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_Policy_Act_of_2005
-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE_1547

Anyway, IEEE 1547 requires that any device that back-feeds the grid shutdown in the event of a utility power outage. It is not allowed to re-energize until it detects good utility power. This is a safety feature to make sure that PV inverters do not backfeed utility transformers and cause the death of linemen trying to restore power.
There is no way to defeat this safety feature. It is hard-wired.

Could we just use a switch??
Nope. The inverter will absolutely not work again until it senses good utility power for 5 minutes

Could we make it work?
There are special inverters for off-grid or poor-grid applications called “hybrid inverters”. These inverters would be able to run even when the utility power goes out. They typically also require a large battery bank to operate. They cost a lot more than a normal PV inverter(2x) and just aren’t cost-effective for a normal homeowner. They are installed at remote locations, like military outposts or rustic log cabins deep in the woods. They back-feed the grid AND they provide a second feed that is always on. The grid-tied feed follows the IEEE 1547 rules. The “always on” feed does not. It just keeps chugging.

Where did Cory and others get this crazy/stupid/wrong idea?
The articles that everyone is linking to involve off-grid type inverters. The issue wasn’t that FPL banned them. FPL doesn’t actually control that sort of thing. The issue was that if you tried to have utility service disconnected from your home, your home might be listed as “uninhabitable” by the county inspector. That may, or may not, have been FPL’s lobbying.
Regardless, it has zero effect on people right now. The complaint was that you couldn’t opt-out of electrical service. Not that you couldn’t operate your solar in an off-grid way.

The Truth
FPL did not pass any legislation that prevents people from “using their solar panels during outages”. That is just pure malarkey. Solar panels don’t operate during outages by design. That is true in every state in the United States. In fact, it is a federally-mandated requirement. It comes from IEEE/UL.
You can install a special system that will work, and FPL absolutely allows it.

Cory, I would really appreciate it if you were to fix the article. It is incredibly false.

More info:https://www.solarenergyworld.com/faqs/power-goes-will-solar-system-keep-making-energy/

Source: I am a Power Engineer in the solar industry.

Glossary
Inverter: device that turns DC power created by solar panel into AC power used by your house
Photovoltaic(PV): the technical term for a solar panel, meaning a device that turns photons to electricity
IEEE: Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers
UL: Underwriter’s Laboratory, this is the main electrical safety certifying lab in the US
grid-tie: An inverter that shares a connection with the utility power grid


#15

Florida Power and Light lobbyists made it illegal to use solar during outages

Insert florida man gif here.


#16

I live in Florida and was without power for 5 days. I dug a fire pit and cooked on an oven rack in the back yard, not even kidding. Empty laundromats and silent construction sites ( plywood condos/anthills ) were powered up asap, but people were dying in nursing homes. Republican leadership at it’s finest, I am sure their whole prioritization plan began and ended with “jerb craters” .


#18

While I suspect pucksr is more expert than I am on the actual installing-solar-panels-for-real-people-to-use end of things, I do have more than 25 years of experience in the solar industry and I second everything he says. FPL is definitely no friend to solar power, but the safety issues they cite are legit and the IEEE standard for grid synchronization and disconnection (or a similar standard) is followed pretty much everywhere in the world that solar panels are connected to the power grid. It’s common sense.

To boil down pucksr’s comments to their essence, it is easy to build a grid-connected PV system and it is easy to build one that is not grid-connected, but it is much more challenging to build one that does both (from both a technical and economic perspective).


#19

It actually isn’t difficult. You can go buy an SMA Sunny Island inverter right now. It costs $4500 for a 6kW unit(A normal 6kW inverter costs $1500)
Then, you just wire it up as normal. Except you wire up the “always-on” output to your panel. You can basically think of the hybrid inverter as a “transfer switch” in a normal generator install(two inputs, 1 output). In fact, the hybrid inverter typically has the ability to connect a gas-powered generator.

Now, if you are making excess power, it will backfeed over the IEEE 1547 compliant grid-tie feed.
If the power goes out, you will keep getting power over the "always-on"output.

Problem
You just paid $3k for a 6kW solar generator. I can go buy a whole-house 12kW propane/natural gas generator+installation for that cost. Considering how infrequently it will operate, it will probably be more cost effective to just install the generator. Which is what most people wind up doing.


#20

Yeah, I purposely oversimplified and should probably have indicated that. As an end-user it’s not that hard to go buy an inverter that will get the job done, but it’s a lot more expensive and the inverter design is more complicated (hence “more challenging … from a technical and economic perspective”). But you’re right that the end-user doesn’t have to deal with the technical difficulties, he/she just has to be able and willing to shell out the cash.


#21

I have seen a few people post this on Facebook with the “outrage” over “Lobbyists” writing laws benefiting themselves.

I fear they read the headline then move on to read what they want to read without critical thinking.

I stated the correct headline for this article would be “Regulatory and Safety organizations are among many organizations that are very concerned with Home Solar Operations that can be extremely dangerous to workers during times of outages by injecting power into a grid that is assumed to be de-energized”

Just doesn’t quite get people as excited though.