Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have announced what could prove to be an innovation in disaster-related power management.

The team at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering say they have developed an algorithm that would allow owners of residential solar PV systems to share power from their rooftop systems during grid power outages.

The algorithm could boost the reliability of residential solar systems by 15 to 35 per cent, according to the researchers.

Abdulelah H Habib, PhD candidate in mechanical engineering and the lead author of the team’s research paper, said the project had been inspired after Hurricane Sandy hit the US east coast in 2012.

During a grid power outage, the algorithm would be able to prioritize the distribution of solar power, taking into account generation forecasts and amount of available energy storage including electric vehicles and batteries. That information would be combined with projections about energy use and the generation capacity of a cluster of homes.

The algorithm could also include a priority function so that critical users such as hospitals would not lose power. Consumers would also be able to pay more to get power during a grid outage.

In terms of energy storage, the researchers found that individual storage solutions produced optimal performance but community-scale storage systems are more resilient during outages, as well as reducing costs.

The algorithm can’t be implemented immediately, though, as there are several significant barriers. Each household would need to install circuit breakers that can be remotely controlled, which are not yet in widespread use, as well as ‘grid forming’ inverters that can connect to other inverters. Utilities would need to install advanced communication technologies so that residential power systems can ‘talk’ to each other. And regulations in most US states that prohibit owners of residential solar systems from selling power to other households would need to change.

The researchers pointed out that their technology could currently benefit owners of commercial solar systems.