San Diego Wildfires
Overview
MAP The San Diego wildfires of November, 2003 destroyed more than twenty-six hundred homes and killed more than a dozen residents. Only now are we seeing residents and government agencies coming together to organize recovery from the devastation. The present program offered by State and local agencies offers significant rebates to facilitate installation of energy efficient and photovoltaic systems -- however the program is scheduled to terminate in November 2005.
Rebuilding
Persons rebuilding after the wildfires are typically encountering substantial costs associated with new Fire and Building Code requirements. Against this, several rebate programs have been instituted, including those for energy efficiency and energy generation.

Our sales manager, Mark Feyerherm, has contact information for many local homeowners' groups. The San Diego Regional Energy Office administers many of the programs related to energy efficiency and generation. 

Both Mark Feyerherm and our V.P. of Sales, Stephanie Saavedra, have information available on residential, commercial, uninterruptible, and off-grid power systems.  Stephanie Saavedra is also our liaison with the local American Indian communities.

The East County Fire Relief Center has prepared a list of organizations participating in helping persons affected by the wildfires. Please see their List of Organizations.

Energy and Water
It takes energy to transport water.  Utility electric power is one of the first casualties in wildfires and other natural disasters.  At least two houses in Wildcat Canyon were saved because the had battery banks and could pump water using electric power from their inverters when the utility grid went down. 

Power outages in Campo and Potrero lasting for almost two weeks cost residents their frozen food.  Water pumping for livestock became an emergency necessity.  Solar photovoltaic systems can easily provide for both needs.

Those depending on the utility for power to pump water found themselves without any protection.  See the last page of the Newsletter for a different story.

The cheapest way, in initial cost, to try to guarantee the availability of electric power is with a generator.  Usually propane or diesel.

Unfortunately, generators are not efficient when powering small loads.  For this reason, it is desirable -- especially if utility electricity is not available -- to add a battery bank and inverter system.  This can be set up so that the generator is automatically started if the batteries need charging.

The most common form of battery, lead-acid, deteriorates if not fully charged from time to time.  Doing this from a generator is inefficient because it requires hours of a small amount of power to finish fully charging the battery.  Adding even a small photovoltaic array to the system greatly extends battery life by providing this final charge.

It is likely that fuel (and photovoltaic panel) prices will rise in the future.  Given the long life (>20 yrs) of photovoltaic panels, and the minimal cost of ownership and use, having enough photovoltaic capacity to provide normal electricity needs may be considered cheap financial insurance.  And quite possibly one of the best investments available.

Money Matters
We are often asked about the payback period of photovoltaic installations.  Unfortunately this requires assumptions about the probably future course of energy prices and interest rates, which we are not qualified to predict.  Some of our thinking and links to others can be found at: Energy Economics.

Samples of a cash flow analysis for a photovoltaic system installed on a rebuilt property are at: San Diego Wildfire Photovoltaic Analysis.