Pandemic, Outages Kindle Homeowner Interest in Electric Reliability: Survey

Oct. 30, 2020
A new survey by Sunrun underscores just how much homeowners are beginning to worry about electric reliability as California utilities continue to shut off power to prevent wildfires.

A new survey by Sunrun underscores just how much homeowners are beginning to worry about electric reliability as California utilities continue to shut off power to prevent wildfires.

The Sunrun study found a kindling in homeowner interest in acquiring batteries to avoid blackouts. In the study, 38% of homeowners out of 1,000 surveyed said they’re interested in battery power. Five hundred of those surveyed live in California, and the other 500 live across the US.

The findings come in the wake of a series of public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) implemented by California utilities to reduce the possibility that electrical equipment will spark fires under certain weather conditions.

A summary from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) of events through the end of 2019 shows that power is often down for one to two days. Most recently, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) cut off power on Sunday morning to 355,000 customers in 34 counties and began restoring power Monday.

The Sunrun findings also come amidst a pandemic that has elevated the importance of residential energy reliability as the home doubles as the office. Millennials, many of whom are working from home, showed the largest interest in backup power. Sixty-one percent of homeowners aged 24 to 39 said they’re more interested in backup power than previously, according to the study.

The findings support reports from microgrid vendors who say that demand for home microgrids has surged in response to wildfires and PSPS. In fact, one company, InstantOn, said demand has jumped by as much as 1,000% in the last month.

Not only has demand increased; so has the pressure to install home microgrids as quickly as possible, and some companies say they can’t move quickly enough to satisfy customers’ requests.

Electric reliability woes

The Sunrun study underlined the fact that people have outages on their minds, in part because they have endured them — for a day or more. The study found that one in three Americans surveyed have experienced an outage or they expect to experience one in the near future. Twenty-five percent of those who experienced power outages this summer said the outages lasted a day or more.

As might be expected, Californians have been most affected by the outages due to the state’s susceptibility to wildfires. Fifty-seven percent of California respondents said they are expecting or experiencing outages.

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And those who were hit by power outages felt they weren’t very well prepared and that backup power would have been helpful to them.

Forty-seven percent of homeowners who experienced power outages this summer said they were “only a little prepared” or “not at all prepared” for the outages. And 45% said that backup power —a battery or generator — would have helped them feel more prepared.

These people also said that outages make it difficult to work or do their schooling at home. That was the word from 29% of those who had experienced an outage. That number is higher for people who are “prime working age,” said the study.

Thirty-nine percent of homeowners aged 24 to 39 and 37% of homeowners 40 to 55 said their ability to work or take online classes for school has been significantly to very significantly hurt.

Homeowners see utility bills rise

The COVID crisis is causing homeowners’ energy bills to increase due to the fact that they’re staying home more. Sixty-nine percent of suburban homeowners said that their power usage has increased, and 61% in rural areas have seen energy use increases. Seventy-one percent of Californians surveyed said they’ve seen energy use increases.

For one in six homeowners, energy costs have increased by $40 or more per month, or nearly $500 a year, said the study.

“People find themselves experiencing more outages even though they are paying more and more for electricity,” said the report.

Twenty-five percent of respondents said they’ve already experienced power outages and an additional 20% expect to experience power outages in the next few months. The outages lasted hours to days.

Image Courtesy Sunrun

Other studies have reported a boost in residential demand due to COVID.

Innowatts in March saw a 6-8% daily increase in residential demand due to COVID-19 isolation practices and a 25% drop in energy use by commercial buildings.

Before COVID-19, about 5 million people, or 3.6% of the workforce, worked from home, according to Global Workplace Analytics’ analysis of 2018 American Community Service (ACS) data.

With as many as 56% of workers operating from home, it’s expected that many employees will see the advantage of working from home and will continue doing so, said the Global Workplace Analytics’ analysis.

“The stress of more frequent outages has been compounded by the frustration of rising bills,” said the Sunrun study.

Guarding against uncertainty

Increased costs and unreliable power sources are likely the reason for the increased interest in secondary energy sources, especially solar home batteries, SunRun said.

“…Homeowners expressed interest in battery power for their homes as a way to guard against the high cost and uncertainty that comes with higher energy demand and more frequent natural disasters,” said the study.

In 2020, Sunrun’s Brightbox systems powered thousands of homes in California and the Northeast during outages for a total of 7.583 hours.

Method Research prepared the online survey for Sunrun and it was distributed by Dynata to 1,000 home-owning adults in the United States — 500 homeowners from California and an additional 500 from across the remainder of the country. The survey results were collected between Aug 28 and Sept 2.

“The increased cost and unreliability of traditional power are likely the primary reasons why there’s a spiking interest in secondary energy sources, specifically solar home batteries,” said the study.

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

Facebook: Energy Efficiency Markets

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