Rooftop Solar Seen Protecting U.S. Power Grid From Attack

The U.S. power grid is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, and the growing use of rooftop solar panels will provide protection against lengthy blackouts, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said.

“It wouldn’t take that much to take the bulk of the power system down,” FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said today at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance summit in New York. “If you took down the transformers and the substations so they’re out permanently, we could be out for a long, long time.”

Distributing generation units more widely on the grid, such as by deploying fuel cells and rooftop solar panels will help consumers avoid blackouts. The trend also threatens to cut into revenue that utilities count on to maintain the transmission system, he said.

“A more distributed system is much more resilient,” he said. “Millions of distributed generators can’t be taken down at once.”

Consumers are increasingly taking control of their own reliability and power consumption as they become more aware of the vulnerability of the grid, Wellinghoff said. Those weaknesses became more visible after a gunman damaged a transformer in PG&E Corp. (PCG)’s service area April 16, triggering power shortages in Silicon Valley.

FERC, which regulates the interstate transport of electricity, natural gas and oil, estimates that the transformers that alter the voltage of electricity can take as long as three years to build.

“Consumers are starting to understand they want control,” Wellinghoff said. “They want some ability to keep their lights on when that next storm comes along.”

Copyright 2013 Bloomberg

Lead image: Security camera via Shutterstock