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Get ready for more West Virginia snowfall (and more outages) this winter

 

 

 

Meteorologists are predicting a colder, snowier 2016-2017 winter, thanks to a weakened La Nina.

According to thewinterforecast.com

La Nina is here but it’s on the weaker side as of September. We see this weak La Nina to peak now but get a second burst in December and January before moving to a neutral pattern February and March. This weak La Nina means a colder winter for most of the nation and certainly much colder than last winter.

A weak La Nina, they add, typically brings the above normal snow for the area.

In the West Virginia area, snowfalls are predicted to be 10% to 15% above average, totaling as much as 71.7″ in Beckley, 77.8″ in Bartow, and 95.3″ in Elkins, for example.

As West Virginians know from often painful experience, more snow can mean more outages. That’s because as snow accumulates and freezes on overhead power lines, its weight can snap cables and topple poles – often in locations that the state’s mountainous topography and twisty roads make hard for repair crews to get to.

A Milestone Solar installation with battery backup bank is great protection from winter power outages. Unlike emergency generators,you get day after day of electric power – without flammable fuels, without toxic exhaust fumes, without moving parts to maintain or repair. And your system automatically “refuels” when the sun rises each morning. Continue reading “Get ready for more West Virginia snowfall (and more outages) this winter”

Don’t let power outages ground your business

 

 

You may not have heard what caused last week’s Delta Airlines computer shutdown that grounded 15,000 flights and stranded hundreds of thousands of travelers worldwide for more than 24 hours. It was a local power outage in the part of Atlanta where Delta is headquartered.

There’s a lesson for businesses of all sizes in this: You never know when or where a power outage can occur. You do know that when it does, it can make your business as dead as Delta’s was.

 

Your business doesn’t have 15,000 passenger flights throughout the world each day. And it doesn’t bring in $5.9 billion a year in adjusted pre-tax income. But the smaller your business, the more devastating a full-day outage can be. Continue reading “Don’t let power outages ground your business”

How well can the government protect against power grid attacks?

According to The Hill,

The threat of an attack on the nation’s power grid is all too real for the network security professionals who labor every day to keep the country safe…

One of the most fearful aspects of a cyberattack is that they can be difficult to spot, even when they are happening…

The energy sector for years has…had a mutual assistance program that kicks in during major power disruptions. Providers in unaffected areas send crews to places that have been crippled by a big storm, accelerating the work to restore power.

The assistance program could prove difficult to carry out during a cyberattack, however…

[I]t would seem that the U.S. has a rapid response plan ready to go in the event of any power grid hack.

But according to numerous cybersecurity experts, companies are mostly basing their preparations on the few case studies they’ve seen, creating the potential for gaps.

I’ve spoken to CEOs and utilities about this problem,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said at a congressional hearing in March. “There’s clearly more to do.”

One thing to do to protect your home from outages is to seriously consider a Milestone Solar system with battery backup bank.  Whether an outage results from snowstorms snapping overhead wires, software glitches, or an out-and-out hostile hacking attack, it’ll keep your lights on, your food fresh, and your rooms at comfortable termperature until the power comes on again.

A great AAAAAA-rated review on Angie’s list

Check out this glowing Angie’s List Review from a White Sulphur Springs, WV, customer on March 30, 2016:

Milestone Solar Consultants, owned and operated by Bill Anderson, did our install. We purposely waited 5 to 6 months before doing a review because new stuff always looks good in the beginning but what about months later? We wanted it before the winter set in and he made that happen. ALL his workers were polite, courteous and knowledgeable about what they were doing. We had the batteries and analyzers placed in our basement. There were no boxes, wiring or any trash left lying around anywhere. They even swept. They left my house better than they found it. Mr. Anderson promised a turnkey job and that’s exactly what we got. All the wiring from the outside mounting racks to the basement equipment looks like a piece of art. Their attention to even the smallest detail is second to none! Even though they are a 4½ hour drive fro us, anytime we called him Mr. Anderson made himself available to us and was ready to drive down immediately to address any concerns or issues we had even if they turned out to be unwarranted. This shows his dedication to what he is doing, and he will do whatever is needed to see both his solar system and his customer is always happy. We’ve already experienced 3 power outages with our Electric Company and didn’t even know it. The solar system’s batteries kicked in so efficiently and quickly that our digital clocks didn’t even start blinking. When the power comes back on the batteries switch back to standby without us having to do a thing. We also ran our home on just the solar system itself, going completely off the grid (in the winter) and ran everything easily for 4 or 5 days. Which is exactly what Mr. Anderson said it would do. He has the credentials and expertise to answer any questions you pose to him. None of that, “Well I don’t know. I will have to check on that question and get back to you.” Which we had with other big name solar installers. Milestone Solar came into our home as strangers and left as family. Any and ALL questions were answered by Mr. Anderson and his crew and there were a lot of them! And we know he will ALWAYS be just a phone call away if we have more questions or need him in any way. And that speaks volumes!! If you are looking to put in a Solar Array System, it would be to your advantage to have a quote from Milestone Solar. His prices can’t be beat ESPECIALLY when he uses ONLY top quality equipment and materials. We looked at many different systems from other companies but Milestone Solar stood out by miles…no pun intended 🙂

 

Adding Battery Backup to an Existing Residential Solar System

When we first started Milestone Solar, a residential solar system that featured a battery backup option was not at all common. It was mostly a cost issue, as the batteries do add substantial cost to the system. But I think it was also true that many installers did not (and probably still do not) like the extra complexity that an integrated battery backup (bimodal) capability brings to the project, so they did not promote the capability.

We’ve always liked the bimodal technology and the capabilities it brings, and have offered it as an option to customers for years now. Our installed base of battery backup systems speaks for itself.

But there are thousands of residential solar systems that were installed without batteries. This type of system, which I call a straight production system, does a great job of producing electricity on a day-to-day basis, but when the grid is down, your solar system shuts down – by design. One of my friends, an engineer in the solar industry, calls it buyer’s remorse to discover that you now want to add battery backup to your legacy solar system.

I think it may be any number of factors, to include spreading the cost over a longer period of time, a response to some of big storms that have caused prolonged power outages for thousands of homes, or maybe a response to the various threats to the grid as discussed in the book Lights Out by Ted Koppel.

Over the past few years we have been hearing more and more about a capability to retrofit legacy solar systems with batteries using an electrical design called AC Coupling. Our standard or typical bimodal battery backup system uses DC coupling and features the array, charge controller, batteries, inverter and critical loads subpanels. Everything on the input side of the inverter is DC.

As you can see on the graphic at the top from Enphase Energy, the main components in this AC Coupling design/ retrofit are the battery bank, a compatible inverter/charger and a critical loads subpanel. On a day-to-day basis the solar array and, in this example, micro inverters, are sending AC power to the critical loads panel. Any excess is sent on to the new inverter/charger to be routed to the main panel for use in the house, or sent back to the grid for credit via the bidirectional meter. But when the grid is down, the inverter/charger begins supplying power from the battery bank, and after a short pause, the micro inverters will see a 240 VAC connection and will once again begin producing electricity.

 

One of the keys to this process is to have a fully compatible inverter/charger that is monitoring the state of the battery bank to insure that the batteries are protected from overcharging. Most use a process called “frequency shifting” to take the AC connection to the solar system out of spec, shutting down the array inverter(s) when the batteries are at a certain state of charge. Some companies are also recommending an additional inline relay to further protect the batteries from overcharging – an option worth looking into as well.

The obvious question that comes up now is, should we now abandon DC coupling for this AC-coupled configuration? In my opinion, if you are starting from the beginning, the DC coupled system design offers significant advantages, like highly efficient MPPT charge controllers with a tapered charge cycle that can be “tuned” to your individual system and also provides great battery protection.

It probably goes without saying that this is not a good do-it-yourself project for the average homeowner. But there is now more than enough of an installed base to consider AC coupling a viable and fully supported option for the many customers with legacy solar systems who would like to add batteries for when the grid is down.

Tesla Powerwall – Not Ready for Prime Time as a Backup Solution

Tesla has received a lot buzz in the national press – even predictions about how they will fundamentally change the way we all use and store electricity. Buzz is one thing, facts are often quite different.

As the region’s leading installer of grid-tied, battery-backup solar systems, we field a lot of calls and emails regarding different battery-related components and capabilities. Lately we have had a lot of questions about Tesla batteries and our reasons for not using them at this point.Tesla_Powerwall

When talking specifically about the Powerwall lithium-ion batteries, there are two models targeted at residential use: A 7 kW hour daily cycling version and a 10 kW hour storage model targeted for true backup configurations.

First, the 7 kWh model: As indicated, this battery pack is a daily cycling technology. The batteries do not have a “float” state to allow for longer term storage . So the energy you store today must be used tonight. That’s why even Tesla’s own website claims only that its Powerwall battery “stores electricity generated by solar panels during the day and makies it available to your home in the evening.” 

In our area, this is a mostly useless capability, because we still have net metering. So any extra power your system makes today can be sent back to the utility, via your bidirectional meter, so you get full credit for it. Some call this using the grid as your storage, which is not a bad analogy.

In areas with no net metering (like Hawaii), the idea is to send excess power to the Tesla for short-term storage and then use it tonight before it expires. I wonder about the ROI for this system, but that is the process.

Now the 10 kWh model: This was the system that was being tested for deployment by at least one of the big national solar companies for their own proprietary battery-backup system. But a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to a national rollout. According to multiple press reports, the 10 kWh batteries failed – a lot, and have since been withdrawn from availability.

As a result, the only Tesla for residential deployment is the daily cycling version, which is basically worthless in our area in my opinion. For now, the 10 kWh version is removed from the Tesla website, and one assumes an improved version will come out at some time. I strongly suggest that you do not want to be one of the early deployments of the next release.

The bottom line? If you are a customer with one of our systems, or considering one of our systems, be assured the battery system you want in the near term is Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) technology. That is all we use and all we have ever used for grid-tied battery backup. I believe that an AGM battery bank, when coupled with Schneider Electric’s Conext/Xantrex inverters, charge controllers and balance of system components, represents the best residential grid-tied battery backup technology available today, and that is why we use it.

When looking at the systems we deploy, some of the words that come to mind are: mature, scalable, configurable, stable and predictable. As a person who has been engaged in designing and deploying high-end technologies for more than 30 years – in the military, federal government and Cisco Systems – I can assure you that is where you want to be.

Ground Mount versus Roof-Mounted Solar Systems

On a national basis, the vast majority of residential solar systems are roof mounted.  It makes sense.  It is space that is not being used, and the roof often has the best orientation to the sun’s path, and is the most shade-free area on the property.Untitled1

But in many cases, we encourage customers to at least consider a ground mount system.  The two main reasons are:

  1. You can precisely orient the array to the sun path – allowing for maximum annual production.
  2. If your array is part of an emergency power system (battery backup) and you get a big snow, it is easy to get the snow off of the modules, which is very important for an emergency power system.

For some customers, a ground mount is not a good option. For example, you may have a roof with a great orientation and pitch that is better than, or as good as, any ground mount system.

Foreign hackers are already attacking the US power grid. But a Milestone Solar system with battery backup bank will keep your lights on 24/7 even if they succeed.

This video report reveals how teams of hackers from Russia, China, Iran and ISIS have launched more than a dozen cyberattacks against the US power grid over the past ten years. All it takes is one success to knock out the electricity that lights, heats and cools homes; that keeps food fresh and cooks it; that pumps water from wells – for weeks, perhaps months, at a time.

A bimodal Milestone Solar system with a battery backup bank will keep your lights and power on 24/7, for as long as it takes for the grid to come back up again.

Unlike emergency generators, there are no moving parts to need maintenance. There’s no danger of toxic exhaust fumes. There’s no worry about storing flammable fuels or refueling, because your system will “refuel” with every sunrise – and store up enough electric power to last you through the night.

With federal tax credits and reduced monthly electric bills, a Milestone system with battery backup is a real money-saver when the power grid’s working normally. And it can be a real life-saver if a cyberattack ever knocks the power out. We’ve installed more battery backup systems than anyone else in the region, so call or email us about either putting in a new system – or adding a sealed, gel-filled battery backup bank to an existing one. We’ll be happy to answer your questions as we always do – with straight talk, not sales talk.

 

The Case for Grid-Tied Battery Backup Solar Systems

In his book, Lights Out, veteran newsman Ted Koppel says blackouts could happen anywhere and everywhere..LightsOut3dcover

In 2003, Koppel wrote, when “a high-voltage power line in northern Ohio brushed against some trees and shut down…fifty million people lost power for up to two days in an area that spanned southeastern Canada and eight northeastern states.”

In 2014, when two terrorists with AK-47 rifles shot up a substation near San Jose, California, it took 27 days to restore power to Silicon Valley.

Tomorrow, says Koppel, one hostile hacker armed with nothing more lethal than a laptop could take down “three power grids that generate and distribute electricity throughout the United States,” plunging “millions of Americans into…something approximating the mid-nineteenth century.”

For months.

Months without light, heating or cooling. Months with food rotting in refrigerators and freezers. Months with stoves that can’t cook, toilets that can’t flush, washing machines that can’t wash.

 

That’s because, according to Lights Out, our power generation and distribution system suffers from three major vulnerabilities.

The first is that

electricity flowing throughout the United States depends absolutely on computerized systems designed to maintain perfect balance between supply and demand…It is the Internet that provides the instant access to the computerized systems that maintain that equilibrium. If a sophisticated hacker gained access to one of those systems and succeeded in throwing that precarious balance out of kilter, the consequences would be devastating. We can take limited comfort in the knowledge that such an attack would require painstaking preparation and a highly sophisticated understanding of how the system works and where its vulnerabilities lie. Less reassuring is the knowledge that several nations already have that expertise…As the ranks of capable actors grow, the bar for cyber aggression is lowered.

The second is a physical, not cyber, threat.

The nature of the electric power industry is such that it combines modern technology with antiquated equipment. Some of that equipment is so large, so expensive, and so difficult to replace that it constitutes an entire category of vulnerability…No country in the world has a larger base of installed large power transformers than the United States, and that base is aging…on average, thirty-eight to forty years old…Conservatively, there are thousands of aging transformers, most custom-built, unable to be ordered from a catalogue or mass-produced, each costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million to $10 million…[and] so large they cannot be transported on a standard railroad freight car.

If saboteurs with high-powered rifles were to knock out large power transformers in nine critical substations – like the one in San Jose ­– “it could cause a blackout encompassing most of the United States.”

And that’s because of the third vulnerability, the cascade effect. As cyberattacked or sabotaged equipment starts to fail, the electric grid’s harder and harder tries to compensate cause more failures. “Overburdened lines fall like dominoes.”

When and if this happens, says the Department of Homeland Security, you should keep a battery-powered radio handy. We have a better idea: a battery-powered house.DCBatteryPower_Illust_HR

A Milestone Solar installation with a sealed, gel-filled backup battery bank keeps your lights lighting, your refrigerator and freezer refrigerating and freezing, your microwave cooking, your well pump pumping, your toilets flushing, your washer washing, and so on.

Not just for days (and nights, thanks to the batteries), not just for weeks and months, but for as long as the sun rises each morning.

Unlike emergency backup generators, there’s no danger of toxic exhaust fumes, no moving parts to wear out, and no chance of fuel running out before the lights come back on; a Milestone Solar system with battery backup “refuels” with each sunrise.

As one pleased customer noted,

even with just a little daylight in the morning, well before direct sun hits the panels, the system kicks in and starts producing.

Milestone Solar has installed more solar systems with battery backup banks than anyone else in the region over the past five years. So please contact us to learn more. About an investment that gets you an average of $9,000-$11,000 in tax creditsincreases your property value, and saves you hundreds of dollars a year on your monthly electric bills when the power’s on. And could save something even more vital when the power goes out.

 

How much should an hour of electricity cost?

8.8.12-Power-Outage

About 3 PM Monday, May 12, a substation equipment failure knocked out power in Cumberland, MD, and Mineral County, WV.

It wasn’t until 4 PM that Potomac Edison sent repair crews to the scene.

And it wasn’t until 7 PM – four hours later – that all 3,000 customers who’d been without electricity got it back.

Though backup generators kicked in at households that had them, their power came at a cost. Backup generators burn propane at the rate of four gallons per hour. At $4 per gallon of propane, that’s $16 per hour to keep the lights on and the refrigerator cold. For a four-hour outage, that’s $64.

Do the arithmetic, and you’ll see that for a two-day outage, like the ones that hit towards the beginning of this year, you could be spending $768 just for two days of electricity.

A battery backup bank, on the other hand, costs $0 per hour to keep your lights and your appliances powered. That’s because instead of costly propane, its “fuel” is free. It’s the sun, which rises every morning and powers Milestone Solar arrays even on cloudy days.

And adding a battery backup bank to your Milestone Solar system costs no more than a backup generator – sometimes less.

Click here or call us at 866-688-4274 to learn if a Milestone Solar system is right for your home or business. (Even the call is free.)

 

Keeping food safe when the power goes out

The year’s first snowstorm, Winter Storm Hercules, is living up to its name.

It’s dumping snow from Bangor, ME, to as far west as Chicago and as far south as the West Virginia-Kentucky state line – enough snow cancel 2,300 airline flights.

But that’s not the worst of it.

With freezing and below-freezing temperatures as far south as Central Virginia, power lines are starting to ice up. When power lines ice up, they sag, often break, and cause power outages. And when the power goes out, so do appliances like refrigerators and freezers, that keep your food from going bad.

So right now, these USDA tips for keeping food safe to eat are particularly worth following:

  • Fill Ziplock bags, empty soda bottles, and other plastic containers with water and freeze them. That way they can keep perishables in your freezer, refrigerator, and coolers (see below) cold.
  • Freeze food in your refrigerator that you don’t need immediately (meat, poultry, milk, and leftovers such as chili and soup, for example). If you loose power, this will buy you some more time by keeping them at a food-safe temperature longer.
  • Pack everything tightly together in the freezer and refrigerator to help keep everything cooler longer.
  • Have coolers on hand, ready to be filled with ice packs, frozen foods and refrigerated perishables.
  • If the power goes out, keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A fully packed, closed freezer will hold its temperature about 4 hours. A half-filled one will keep food safe for only half as long.
  • Look for visible ice crystals in your food. If they’re there, the food’s good to refreezing or cook and eat – even if it’s been in a sealed freezer without power for days.
  • If you’re not sure whether something’s safe to eat, use a cooking thermometer. If a food’s temperature is below 40˚F, it’s safe. If not, throw it out.
  • Also throw out any meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, soft cheeses, foods labeled “keep refrigerated,” and other perishables that have sat in your refrigerator for 4 hours without power. Hard and processed cheeses, butter and margarine, whole, uncut fruits and nuts, opened fruit juices and canned fruits, peanut butter, baked goods, and raw vegetables are safe.
  • Never taste an item to see if it’s still good; it most likely isn’t.

And after the power comes back on again, you might think about calling Milestone Solar about a solar power system with a battery backup bank. It’ll keep your fridge, freezer microwave working while the power’s out – for days on end, because it recharges whenever the sun is up. And when the snow stops and you have your electricity back, it’ll save you as much as 50% on your regular, monthly electric bills.

 

 

Red Cross advice for dealing with a blackout

If you already have a Milestone Solar system with battery backup, you can skip most of this, because it won’t apply to you.

Your sealed, high-tech battery backup bank will be storing up electric power with every ray of the sun (and recharging every day)  – enough power to keep your essential appliances going until the power comes back on, even if that’s days, even weeks, later.

For everyone else, the following pointers from the Red Cross can be important. That big pre-Thanksgiving storm was only the beginning of the snowstorm season. Once winter officially arrives, there’s be more snow, causing more icing up on power lines, more breaks and more outages.

Food Safety

  • If a power outage is 2 hours or less, don’t worry about losing your perishable foods.
  • Don’t open your refrigerator and freezer doors unless you have to. Use perishable food from the refrigerator first. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about 4 hours.
  • After perishables from the refrigerator are gone, then use food from the freezer. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half-full) if the door stays closed.
  • Use your non-perishable foods and staples after you’ve eaten all the food from the refrigerator and freezer.
  • If it looks like the power outage will continue beyond a day, get ice from an unaffected area and prepare a cooler for your freezer items.
  • Keep food in a dry, cool spot and keep it covered at all times.

Electrical Equipment

  • Turn off and, if you can, unplug every electrical appliance that was on when the power went out – particularly sensitiver electronics like computers. This will protect them from surges and spikes when the power returns.
  • Leave one light plugged in, so you’ll know when  the power’s back.
  • If you absolutely have to drive, drive extra carefully. Remember that traffic lights and street lights are electric, so they’ll also be out.

Fire and Carbon Monoxide Cautions

  • Unlike a backup battery bank, generators, grills, camp stoves and other devices that burn gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal can emit toxic exhaust fumes or cause fires. So don’t use them in your home, garage, basement, crawlspace or other enclosed areas. And if you use them outside, use them away from doors, windows and vents that could let the exhaust indoors.
  • Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on each floor and also outside bedrooms. That way, you’ll have warning when deadly carbon monoxide starts building up.
  • If a carbon monoxide alarm goes off, quickly move to where there’s fresh air – outdoors or by an open window or door.Once you’re there, stay there. Call for help  and remain there until emergency help arrives.

After the Blackout

  • Watch out for downed power lines. Don’t touch them, keep your kids and pets away from them, and report them.
  • Throw away any food that’s been exposed to temperatures higher than 40° F (4° C) for 2 hours or more, or that has an unusual odor, color or texture. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Remember that food that looks all right and smells all right may not be all right. When they’ve been too warm too long, bacteria can start growing quickly. Many of these bacteria carry food-borne illnesses, and some produce toxins that even cooking can’t destroy.
  • If food in your freezer is colder than 40° F and has ice crystals on it, you can refreeze it.
  • If you’re not sure food is cold enough, take its temperature with a food thermometer.