Sunday, February 13, 2011

Clarification on the Electrical Service Upgrade

The Lovely Wife brought up an issue with my last post. She asked why if our intent to save energy we were getting a much bigger breaker box. Also, I thought I would clarify a bit how our underground electrical service works. Most houses in the US have their service from wires strung in the air from the power pole to the house.

The reason we have a bigger breaker box is because we are getting at least 4 new circuits in the breaker box which will serve the house. These are three 220V/20 amp circuits for the on demand  electric  hot water heater, and one  220V/40 amp circuit for the electric car charger. There  may be a couple of additional 110V/15 amp circuits for the HRVs and the garage. All our existing electrical circuits will remain unchanged on the existing inside house circuit  breaker panel, which has no space for the new circuits. The old panel on the outside of the house, which you saw in the photo on my last post, is much smaller because it contains only one breaker in it,  a 100 amp  breaker for the whole house. The new one will contain the 200 amp breaker for the whole house, plus the breakers for the new inside circuits.

As for saving energy, our system remodel is designed to save on heating gas through much more effective insulation. When it comes to electricity, though, we are substituting  electricity for other sources of energy that are harder to make renewable. The on demand  hot water heater will  substitute electricity for gas for backup hot water heating (the  main hot water heating is solar),  and the electric car charger will substitute electricity for petroleum-based gasoline. Then an expansion of  our  solar PV system will offset all but 2000 kwh/yr of our electricity use with clean, 100% non-fossil carbon based solar electricity. The 2000 kwh/yr (estimated) that we do not offset will be drawn from the grid. Since the State of California has a renewable mandate of 20% by 2020 (with 33% being a stretch goal), the likelihood is that the grid will become much cleaner before transportation fuels or heating gas do (btw: don't let the media story of "clean" natural gas fool you,  natural gas produces fossil carbon and thus contributes to global warming too, it just produces much less of it, about half that of coal or oil).

Because our service is underground, the upgrade process has been very complicated.  Most people in the US (and many other parts of the world too) have service from an aerial line that runs  from the poles on the street where the utility has their lines to the house. Upgrading such an aerial  line is much simpler, the lineman comes, removes the old line, installs a thicker new line, and you are done. Of course, you still need to get a new breaker box with a larger breaker for the 200 amp service.

In our case, the utility lines are buried in conduits beneath the streets, along with the phone lines and the cable lines. This makes our neighborhood look much neater, without a lot of poles along the streets with wires draped over them. But it does make upgrading the service much more difficult. Here is a picture of the cement box where the electrical lines enter my and my neighbor's property:

Somewhere beneath that box, two conduits lead out at angles to our  houses. My neighbor had his service upgraded to 200 amps  in 1985 when he had central  air conditioning installed.

When PG&E comes, hopefully on Feb. 23, they will dig a trench from the box to the place where the pipe from the new breaker box is, under the area where our sidewalk used to be (and  will be once again when the job is through). Here you can see a clear space to the concrete access box, which is right next to the green sword shaped  leaves in the center of the picture (it's a naked lady, native California plant that blooms in August):

There are still a couple of clearing items that need to be done, the small  rock  wall, and I think we will probably have to repair the irrigation  in our neighbor's yard if the trenching damages it. But I think PG&E shouldn't otherwise have a problem with digging the trench.


  1. Sorry, but Amaryllis Belladonna (naked lady) is not a California Native. It is, however, drought tolerant and a wonderful surprise each fall.

  2. Electrical Service or electrical wiring in all-purpose refers to insulated conductors used to bear current and connected devices.
    Electrical Services London

  3. We too have the same facility in our house and now we are going to install such facility in our factory too.
    Electrical Contractors Bendigo

    1. Hi Carol, I know a good company that offers high quality electrical services that can help you to manage the electrical problem of your factory. This commercial electrician Brisbane company are the popular and expert in their field. You can easily find them here.

  4. Electrical service is very nice this is TV installation service Dublin providing and friendly services .we have service is very nice .Any product is nice customers review is very good .Very efficiently written information. It will be valuable to everyone who uses it, including myself. Thanks a lot