----- Original Message -----
From: Gene Cramer
Sent: Friday, March 23, 2001 2:11 PM
Subject: EnLG 2001mar23 SCIENTISTS TEST DEVICE THAT MAY HELP PREVENT BLACKOUTS
SCIENTISTS TEST DEVICE THAT MAY HELP PREVENT BLACKOUTS
Small electric switches could stop the 240-volt flow but leave the lights on.
Orange County REGISTER March 23, 2001
By PAUL ROGERS The San Jose Mercury News
LIVERMORE - Scientists tinkering with electric switches at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory may have found a way to prevent blackouts across California.
Researchers at the lab in the past week have successfully tested a simple electric switching device that could be placed on thousands of power poles around the state, shutting of partial power to homes and businesses during Stage 3 alerts in hot summer months while keeping some lights on.
The switches would be tripped by utility companies using a radio signal. They would shut off only the 240-volt power to most buildings, leaving a 120-volt line live. For affected homes, that would shut down air conditioners, electric stoves and water heaters for a few hours. But it would leave on lights, computers, microwave ovens and most other household appliances - taking down demand enough to avert blackouts.
The invention is the brainchild of KGO radio host Bill Wattenburg, a nuclear physicist and former professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, who also has worked as a consultant at Livermore for 30 years.
Several weeks, if not months, of tests remain. But already, the state's major utilities and some of its top energy planners say if successful, the switches could go a long way toward reducing blackouts over the next two years while more power plants are built.
"It is a brilliant idea," said Arthur Rosenfeld, a board member of the California Energy Commission. "It's replacing very ominous blackouts with very benign, soft blackouts," he said.
People would be inconvenienced for a few hours when air conditioning is off, he said. But the alternative that now exists is rolling blackouts, which shut off all electricity to thousands of homes, stop elevators, darken traffic lights and idle businesses.
Rosenfeld, one of the state's leading energy scientists, started the Center for Building Science at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in Berkeley.
If the 6-inch-by-6-inch switches were placed on all 1 million power poles in the state, that could save 3,000 megawatts of energy or more - perhaps as much as 7,000 megawatts - Rosenfeld said.
In recent months, the California Energy Commission has estimated that the state could be about 5,000 megawatts short this summer.
Because of production time, the devices probably would be of best use next summer, although some benefits could occur this summer.
It is unclear who would pay for the devices. Total cost to wire the state: $500 million.
Gov. Gray Davis' staff has been briefed on the new invention and is intrigued.