In Florida, You Can't Use Your Own Solar Panels In A Crisis

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Mike Krieger via Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,

When it comes to the U.S. economy, the “con” part offers the best description of the current relationship between business, government and the preyed upon consumer.

The way things work in early 21st century America is large businesses bribe politicians in a variety of ways at both the local and federal level, and the end result is laws that are designed to increase corporate profits at the expense of the wellbeing and freedom of the American public. Politicians end up with financial war chests to run their next campaign, while bureaucrats see a lucrative opportunity to swing through the ever spinning revolving door should they play ball with lobbyists and their patrons. Yes, there’s always some degree of corruption within any society of humans, but there are peaks and valleys in such cycles. I’d argue we are somewhere in the peak corruption phase.

Today’s article focuses on one of the most highly regulated industries in the country, electric utilities. It’s one of the most boring businesses in America. I know this because it fell under the umbrella of my responsibilities during my last Wall Street job, and I could barely read a utilities research report without immediately falling asleep. Nevertheless, as you’ll see in today’s piece, the industry still finds a way to generate large profits while simultaneously harming the people its supposed to service.

When I think about solar panels, its not just the use of a renewable resource I find appealing, but also the potential to take energy generation into your own hands; something that can prove quite useful in a major global crisis, or even something more minor like Hurricane Irma’s impact on Florida. The latter could’ve be a lifesaver for some Florida residents recently, but a local electric utility has done everything in its power to deny its customers such freedom.

Here’s some of what we learned about this situation from a fascinating article published by the Miami New TimesWhy Didn’t FPL Do More to Prepare for Irma?

Hurricane Wilma, the last ‘cane to hit South Florida, tore through the area in 2005 and killed power to 3.24 million of FPL’s then-4.3 million customers (75 percent of the grid). Many of those customers had to wait up to two weeks for power to return. Since then, the company has spent more than $2 billion supposedly girding itself against the next storm, according to a Sun Sentinel piece published before Irma hit.

 

But after Irma, which by most reports brought only Category 1-strength winds to South Florida, by some measures the company did even worse. Despite all of those upgrades, an even larger percentage of FPL’s customer base — 4.4 of 4.9 million customers, almost 90 percent — lost electricity this past weekend.

 

FPL and its parent company, NextEra Energy, have for years heavily influenced state and local politics through donations, making billions in profits each year ($1.7 billion alone in 2016) thanks to favorable state laws that are sometimes literally written by the power company’s own lobbyists.

 

FPL’s lobbying wing has fought hard against letting Floridians power their own homes with solar panels. Thanks to power-company rules, it’s impossible across Florida to simply buy a solar panel and power your individual home with it. You are instead legally mandated to connect your panels to your local electric grid.

 

More egregious, FPL mandates that if the power goes out, your solar-power system must power down along with the rest of the grid, robbing potentially needy people of power during major outages.

 

“Renewable generator systems connected to the grid without batteries are not a standby power source during an FPL outage,” the company’s solar-connection rules state. “The system must shut down when FPL’s grid shuts down in order to prevent dangerous back feed on FPL’s grid. This is required to protect FPL employees who may be working on the grid.”

 

Astoundingly, state rules also mandate that solar customers include a switch that cleanly disconnects their panels from FPL’s system while keeping the rest of a home’s power lines connected. But during a disaster like the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, FPL customers aren’t allowed to simply flip that switch and keep their panels going. (But FPL is, however, allowed to disconnect your panels from the grid without warning you. The company can even put a padlock on it.)

 

The law winds up forcing residents to remain reliant on the state’s private power companies. For now, solar-panel owners can still get something out of the law, in that the “net-metering” provision lets you sell excess power back to the company. The provision also lets power companies charge a $400 or $1,000 application fee for consumers who want to install systems more powerful than 10 kilowatts.

 

But if power companies had their way, the net-metering law would vanish tomorrow. Both FPL and its trade association, the Edison Electric Institute, have spent millions trying to kill that net-metering law and instead win the right to charge you for installing your own solar-panel system. In 2016, FPL spent more than $8 million on Amendment 1, a ballot initiative that industry insiders admitted was written to trick customers into giving up their rights to solar power. The law’s language would have paved the way for Florida to kill net-metering rules.

 

This past April, the Energy and Policy Institute caught an FPL lobbyist straight-up drafting anti-solar laws for Fort Myers state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, who also took a $15,000 campaign contribution from FPL this year.

 

Thanks to power-company influence, one of America’s sunniest states lags far behind the rest of the nation when it comes to solar adoption.

Does this sound like an industry looking out for the best interests of its customers? Does it sound like the behavior of an industry where heavy regulation has successfully ensured that corporate interests are aligned with the general public?

No it doesn’t, and it makes me wonder how common this sort of behavior is across the country. I encourage readers to share knowledge of their own local utilities in the comment section.

*  *  *

If you liked this article and enjoy my work, consider becoming a monthly Patron, or visit our Support Page to show your appreciation for independent content creators.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
New_Meat's picture

Solar works in the day and when the grid is down.  About the only good use of it, but in extremis, it is a great use.

New_Meat's picture

we can also thank the Florida PUC with captive FPL and Progress and the others.  OTOH, they are doing restoration  sufficiently fast that the MSM can't bitch about the situation and can only play Colbert  'n' shit.

TeamDepends's picture

How do I get out of this chicken shit outfit?

tmosley's picture

>State infested by Jews

>State has terrible laws for the goyim

Imagine my shock.

Paul Kersey's picture

Mosley, when it comes to joo-baiting, you are the master of your own domain.

flacon's picture

The solution is to not CONTRACT with the power company, because CONTRACT =QUID PRO QUO. Keep your own power to YOURSELF and DISCONNECT from the grid.

Too many people trying to have it both ways. You can't have a contract where you get perks and benefits from SELLING your electricity back to the supplier and have your SOVEREIGNTY too.

Stuck on Zero's picture

California is not much better than Florida. A million rules, permits, and qualifications make it one of the most expensive places to go solar. Sadly it has some of the highest energy costs in the nation, too.

Automatic Choke's picture

Sorry, tin-hatters, this is pretty badly misrepresented.

 

Solar, connected to the grid, synchs to the line frequency of the grid to generate AC power, with a tiny phase lead, to push excess power onto the grid.

The same system, with the grid down, has no 60 Hz incoming to synch to.     If individual systems synthesized their own 60 Hz and pushed onto the grid, the various homes would be randomly phased, which would trash any power output.    More importantly, if the grid is down and your system were able to push power onto the grid, you would be endangering linemen who are working on the lines expecting the power to be off.

 

Here in Nevada, we have similar laws, but there are ways around it.   You need to add to your solar installation:  1) a 60 Hz inverter,   2)  utility grade cutoffs to completely isolate your home from the grid when the grid is down,  3)  A sufficient battery system to provide power smoothing (even if not sufficient to provide all night power, you want to power through intermittent clouds and such without major fluctuations on your house power, else you'll blow out many of your appliances.)

When we installed our solar array, I looked seriously into it.    A minimal job allowing us to go off-grid during a grid interruption just about doubled the cost of the installation.   That's a lot of cash.   I opted not to do so.

 

RAT005's picture

Precisely correct.  And there is an inverter now that provides about 200W to the home when the power is done.  Just enough to keep the fridge and some lights on.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Unfortunately Krieger simply doesn't understand the benefits and limitations of solar power. Without a battery backup as part of the system, the installed panels simply cannot provide smooth steady power to power the house the solar panels are install on.

Grid-tie systems usually don't have a battery backup because they use the existing grid system to 'smooth out' power fluctuations from the panels. In other words, the 'grid' is used as a battery back up for the house's grid-tie system.

When the panels are providing more power than the house is using, the excess power is sold back to the utility negating the need to store the excess power in a battery bank. When the panels aren't providing enough power to run the house, it reverses the flow and buys power from the grid to cover the shortfall. These variations can occur in seconds when a cloud passes over the panels.

Without the grid, a 'grid-tie' system without a battery backup simply cannot properly function.

Sorry Krieger but you simply don't understand. This isn't to say the utility isn't doing everything it can to subvert solar power. Many utilities see solar power as a threat. But forcing home solar power grid tie systems with or without a battery backup to decouple from the grid when the grid is down is simply common sense.

erkme73's picture

I'm so sick of hearing how generators (whether gas, diesel, propane, solar, or wind) can 'backfeed' the grid and cause hazards to the linemen doing repair work.  Here's why...

1) Unless your generator is 100kW or greater (and even that's probably not enough), it would INSTANTLY trip the breaker (on the generator) as it tries to power the load of your entire neighborhood.  Such a load is essentially a dead short on the output of the generator.

2) Before a lineman comes in contact with any 'should-be-dead' lines, he will attach several ground points around the area being serviced.  This protects not only against backfeeding generators, but also transient voltages, or mistakes made by SCADA operators who inadvertently energize the line.

Yet, anytime the news reports on proper use of a generator, the same illogical meme about linemen safety is repeated.   Show me a generator that can overcome the dead-short load of two or three houses (never mind an entire subdivision or distribution feeder), and I'll show you a gas-fired turbine peaking power unit that belongs to a utility.

 

Utopia Planitia's picture

I can set up a test scenario tonight if you are ready to go put your hands on the wire...  Your answer is based on a lengthy list of assumptions.  Those assumptions are sometimes not true.  If you want to be the unlucky lineman then have at it.  I doubt you are ready to give it a try.  We have scenarios like that repeatedly in my area, which is covered in heavy forest.  All you need are two (or more) line breaks close together to set up a fatal scenario.  It DOES happen.

Barney Fife's picture

Well Cog, if you look at the typical loading of a house ,with all of its appliances, it is not at all a smooth continuous loading, even if you have only certain loads connected 24/7 (what I mean is disregard turning lights on and off, TV on and off and only look at loads that go all day). 

What do I mean by that? What I mean is that average home has an average power flow of around 1.5-30 kW. It's the peaks that will kill you during periods of clouds because the RMS average is usually WAY below a system's rating. So where do clouds get you into trouble? 

First, let's be clear. "Smoothing out power" really means "providing additional on-demand power when needed". Power demand is always dictacted by the loads. Secondly, loads that are primarily what are called "reactive loads", such as compressors in fridges and AC units, are the main culprits for power peaks in your usage profile (there is also something called inrush current when you turn on ANY electronic device but its much less an issue in general). These loads can be managed. I did it last week during and after Hurricane Irma when I had a very underpowered generator (but extraordinarily fuel efficient). No different than managing loads on a generator which all Floridians have learned how to do, a solar system lacking a grid would require active load management by the owner  in a manner no different than what we do with a generator. 

So to make a long story short  a grid-tied system without the grid CAN operate if disconnected. It just will not have the performance that it is rated for. And if you have evered suffered through a post-hurricane outage you'll appreciate that some power is better than none. 

The clouds get you into trouble when you are not engaged in active load management. Same with off-grid systems with extended cloud days. As you deplete your battery bank the available discharge rate plunges so you have to manage that also. Again, some power is better than none. 

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

"No different than managing loads on a generator which all Floridians
have learned how to do, a solar system lacking a grid would require
active load management by the owner  in a manner no different than what
we do with a generator."

Ummmm.....no.

It is VERY different than managing loads on a generator. Also the vast majority of grid tie system do not have a battery backup.

A generator provides a relatively steady flow of power. When the demand increase, the engine driving the generator compensates by increasing power. While there are momentary fluctuations, overall the generator automatically compensates for the varying load as long as the total load doesn't exceed the continuous power rating of the generator.

When you speak of active loan management you are speaking about active maximum load management.

Solar panels, except in perfectly clear skies and continuous sunshine, constantly vary the amount of power being delivered. While a good MPPT charge controller will maximize the power output from the panels, it can't overcome smog, rain, partially cloudy days and overcast days.

There simply needs to be a buffer between the solar panel output and the load. That buffer is provided either by a battery backup or the grid.

Many, but not all, installed grid tie systems cannot provide enough power to run the entire house even when the sun is shinning. They just enable a lower power bill by using less utility power in conjunction with the solar panels.

Grid-tie is often, but not always, used to supplement the household electricity usage, not provide for it in total during sunny skies.

By the way, my comment was referring to grid tie systems without a battery backup. A whole different ballgame when the grid tie has a battery backup. Then the house can disconnect and conduct load management because the battery is the buffer.

Eyes Opened's picture

As usual, guys getting bogged down in the technical details & missing the whole point of the article. Obstacles are being put in your way to prevent independence, THATS the message of the article....

Stop tryin to compare digital dicks & address the REAL issue of lobbying, bribery & corruption....

ANY off-grid system can be made safely to prevent grid feedback....FFS cell towers do this, as do hospitals & other important infrastructure.

btw......A simple  "break-before-make" switch will isolate your system effectively for dollars....

 

Barney Fife's picture

Well, you're kinda right. 

Newer systems are based on the microinverter concept where phase lock is done with a master clock, which is switchable between a reference signal from the utility grid or a secondary clock generated by one of the inverters acting as master. 

That said, I can design a phase detector that can lock in milliseconds while providing a load dump mechanism that throttles backfeed onto the network when in that initial lock period because even milliseconds of contention can be extremely damaging. 

So there's a mixed bag of solar systems with the older ones behaving exactly as you describe, but there is no need for a one-size-fits all law when many of the systems are designed to operate in either mode (Grid-tied with battery backup). So I don't think it is at all "badly misrepresented".  You may be only considering either an older system or a newer, less expensive system that cannot manage the transition because they lack an inverter with a self generating reference. I think the right thing is to allow qualified systems to operate disconnected when the grid goes down. 

Come to think of it, why the fuck couldn't ANY system with a 60 Hz reference operate independently off-grid? If you are physically disconnected then you do not have a phase delta, and hence no contention (think of the instantanous phase of your system being exactly pi out of phase with the network ) so there is ZERO risk to the grid. 

BTW, harmonic content generated by non-linear loads does backfeed from every house onto the grid and is one of the reasons why effective PF is lower than what would nominally be expected with a pure fundemental time harmonic signal. So phase deltas on synchronization would only be a transient effect similar to that which is steady state on the grid anyways. 

 

Utopia Planitia's picture

Sorry Barn.  He isn't just "kinda right".  And you are not even close!

Hari_Seldon's picture

If you understood the way of the electron you would realize that he is indeed correct.

Utopia Planitia's picture

The Choke is absolutely correct.  One other issue this brings to the table is ELECTROCUTING the linemen when they come to fix the lines.  Many people are too stupid to put in a disconnect from utility power so their home system (be it solar, battery, goat piss, whatever) does not feed back to the commercial lines.  How would you like to be the lineman busitng your ass to fix the lines and some idiot is pumping juice into the cable you are trying to work on?  If you think that is fun then go take one of those jobs.  No, the utility does not want competition.  But in this case there are a multitude of very sound reasons for the rules they have.

Rusty Shorts's picture

Well if the lineman is to fucking stupid to check for hot lines, I don't call that survival of the fittest. Fuck California and fuck it's regulations  

 

EDIT; Fuck Florida too

 

 

FIAT CON's picture

Yes it is very expensive to have a different inverter and storage batteries, especially if you think you are not going to reduce your consumption drastically.

GatorMcClusky's picture

Simply purchase a grid-tied system with battery backup. It automatically disconnects from the grid when the power goes out. Our Co-Op requires a complete disconnect. This is not unusual.
Enjoy
https://www.wholesalesolar.com/grid-tie-battery-backup

hibou-Owl's picture

i built my own, grid tie solar array with batteries, wind turbine.
Yes if the grid goes down the inverter stops, but I have 2kW UPS which creates a dummy grid for the inverter to sych too.

The inverter has a limiter so no back feed occurs.

My last two month consumption less than 20 euro.

BobEore's picture

Yu rule... Hibou, and no one should underestimate the value of your self-reliance.

However...

allow me to address an issue which seems to go remarkably absent from these type of discussions. Most of those reporting pon their systems are attempting to create off-grid alternative methods of powering...
the same kind of Merikan household as what were dealing with a half century ago... before it became clear that - sooner or later - that same system was gonna break down, and die.

Since most of those who go to all the trouble of creating this alt-power type of project are aware of the probable scenario following that breakdown, it's a jarring anomaly to see all this time and investment spent to create a sitting target for the predatory masses.

Nothing... let me rephrase that... NOTHING not mobile and free of fixed locations is viable in the dystopic future awaiting us all. Those who have ACCOMMODATED THEIR CONSUMPTION PATTERNS instead of working diligently to pare down/eliminate them will find...

at the end of days, a complete lack of fulfillment to their expectations. Learning to live on less... and then rethinking it through... to live upon even less than that... was always the default manner of addressing this issue. At that point... solar becomes a viable alternative for the soul survivor, who is able to pick up and move on - system and all - at the drop of a hat. Literally.

THREE YEARS EIGHT MONTHS, NO (WHEEL-LESS) HOME, NO FIXED LOCATION, NO "appliances"... our yogurt keeps for two to three week in these cold springs. If it ain't rechargeable... I don't need it.

Gerrilea's picture

Sadly, you are mistaken, YOU CAN'T "go off grid" in Florida. 

It's illegal.

http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/03/09/florida-makes-off-grid-li...

Here in the land of the "free" you ARE FREE TO BUY WHATEVER YOU LIKE, BUT YOU MAY OWN NOTHING!"

any_mouse's picture

Everybody has to connected to the grid. Great state you got there.

WOW101's picture

True!  The problem with trying to get completely off the grid is the battery technology that is available today.  They are too expensive, large and require maintenance.   If you want to go with Musk's solution, it will only provide up to 5 hours of backup and still requres you to be connected to the grid.  Getting authorizaion to do so in California is almost impossible anyway.

Dammit Walter's picture

Secure that shit Hudson!

Gorman:  

All right.  I want this to go smooth and by the numbers.  I want DCS and tactical database assimilation by 0830.

                            (groans)

Ordnance loading, weapons strip and drop-ship prep details will have seven hours...

TeamDepends's picture

Ripley: Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?

MANvsMACHINE's picture

What about installing a bunch of small windmills on your property? Would they have an issue with that?

Of course they would.

AGuy's picture

The issue is a safety factor for the repair crews, if home PV system energizes back into the grid it can kill lineman working on repairs.

Another issue is that most Solar installs are Grid Tie system, which are useless without the grid. If they have an off-grid solar and the home is completely disconnect from the grid than its possible to use a solar system, just as if the with a generator.

hardcleareye's picture

Yeah,,,  Hilda house wife starts the gen set and forgets to flip the main disconnect...  back feed the line....  will this kill the lineman... NO NO NO...  they put grounding clamp on the lines before they work on them.. This creates a dead short and trips the breakers on the generating unit.

Safety issue my ass.....  grow a pair...

FIAT CON's picture

It's not just the problem of backfeeding to hydro workers but you would also be backfeeding to your neighbors as well... It's just not a good practice...Although I have been known to turn off my main, and tie phase A & B together and run the entire house off of my honda 1000, As long as you start the fridge and freezer compressors seperatly I'm good to go....Only problem with this way, is that you won't know when the power comes back on unless your watch your neibors or maybe put in a temp indicator light.

Barney Fife's picture

Safety factor is BS. Put a relay switch in that is held closed by the  presence of grid power. When the grid goes down the relay OC's. Engineering 101. It's called fault tolerant design. No grid power, no closed circuit to the grid. For the fireman you have the relay box outside of the house so that they can shut down the entire system on demand. Shit, if someone hasn't done this before then I am going to cook something and get another patent out of this. It'll be #14 for me. Yes, it is possible to combine non-novel elements to produce a novel result. Most patents are cooked that way. Very few are for the invention of static RAM or the transistor. 

Hari_Seldon's picture

Sorry you've gotten heat for your post.  People just do not know.

I created an extension cord with two male ends, turned off the mains and any ganged breakers, ran a jumper between breakers to connect the buss bars so that I would have the fridge and furnace.

Plugged my cord into a nearby standard outlet and waited for the streetlight to come back on.

Piece O'Cake

erkme73's picture

Nonsense.  And by the unanimous upvotes (7 at this point), it's pretty clear that those reading your comment lack the understanding to challenge your position. 

Even if the linemen didn't ground their dead lines before working on them (which they do), the combined load of multiple homes will represent a dead short to any home generator - causing it to trip its own breaker, or stall out instantly (and brutally).

Please stop spreading misinformation.

Grumbleduke's picture

murder, theft, robbery, larsony etc. are illegal, yet done every day.

Yet you seem to think that some bozos with generators will stop seeking an advantage and think "I can't do this! The linemen could be in danger!"

Dream on.

You work with electricity, you are responsible for your own safety. I know I am, and will never trust some idiot to make my job easier.

chubbar's picture

This is a disengenous article, regardless of what FPL mandates, unless the solar system is either a hybrid (battery backup AND grid tie) or stand alone system (meaning no grid tie), the inverter will shut down automatically if it does not sense grid power.

If the owner has a hybrid (sounds like the state mandates grid power so no stand alone systems), then he can use the battery back up to power his home at night or when the sun isn't shining the way it was intended.

There isn't anyway for the owner to override the auto shutdown function of the grid tie inverter. As far as having a circuit breaker in the main panel that connects the grid to the inverter and vis-versa, yes the state could have you shut it off but its just a redundant system to the auto function of disconnecting when the grid goes down. It's a safety feature so some boneheaded homeowner doesn't back power the grid and fry the power line workers trying to restore the grid. This article is a nothing burger because the solar owners couldn't use their grid tie system regardless of what the state mandated if the grid is down.

A L I E N's picture

Yes you are correct.  Being forced to be grid tied seems a little whack though if true..

BlindMonkey's picture

A solar system can store the energy for evening use quite easily.

New_Meat's picture

of course it is easy, so am I.

I am, on the other hand not cheap.

Nor is the storage.

nmewn's picture

But but but..batteries are...Gaaarrreeen! ;-)

hardcleareye's picture

Yeah... Green wash or faux green....

It is very difficult to find the calculated carbon foot print of the batteries...  even Tesla doesn't print that information....  there is a reason for that and when you dig the excuse is that this is "just entry level designs... it will get more efficient with time"....  I think Henry Ford said that about combustion engines.  It still is around 20%, laws of thermodynamics can be a bitch.

MonsterBox's picture

Golf cart batteries. Very, very deep cycle.

I woke up's picture

Grid tie systems only work when the grid is up.  Grid goes down and they shut off because of UL1741 anti-islanding.

 

Dammit Walter's picture

You (or an electrician) can install a switch to disconnect grid power and connect your solar-panels to an internal inverted/battery system.  Then feed your standard 110/220 house panel.  This is not hard at all.  A few hundred bucks could get an electrician to do all this for you.  All of the equipment is purchase off the shelf.

Option 2 : obtain and setup an external solar-panel array (one or more depending on your needs), and run your essential gear from the independent solar array.  Charge one or more 12v deep cycle / marine batteries with the solar power.  When dark, or cloudy run your esssential emergency equiment.  I would say you only need enough to run some lower power lighting for night time, and your refrigerator to keep your cold food from spoiling, and charge / run any other essential gear like (ham) radios, etc.  That should keep you going for quite a long time.  

Option 3 : solar / battery bank powers only kitchen sub panel -- which keeps refrig and a few sockets available for charging other devices like flash lights, radios, etc.

If you are thinking along these terms already, you probably already have some dry stored food or MRE type stash so even refrig failure is probably not that big a deal. 

New_Meat's picture

you can open the main circuit breaker in your house. or, for that matter, unscrew the main fuses.  you can be your own island.  Of course, this process is not encouraged, since "no manis an island."