Communication Technology, DER-Grid Edge, Energy Storage, Generation, Outage Management, Solar, Transmission

Millions of Californians in the dark as PG&E shuts power to 800,000 meters

Today California utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) began the first phase of its Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) during which the power will be cut to up to 800,000 customers, according to the utility.

The utility notified customers yesterday in a post on its Current website of the impending shutoffs, which will occur in three phases.

The first phase, which impacts approximately 513,000 customers began at 12 a.m. Wednesday morning. Customer impacts will include: Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo and Yuba.

The second phase of the Public Safety Power Shutoff will occur around 12:00pm on Wednesday afternoon, impacting service to approximately 234,000 customers in the following counties: Alameda, Alpine, Contra Costa, Mariposa, San Joaquin, San Mateo and Santa Clara.

A third phase is being considered for the southernmost portions of PG&E’s service area, impacting approximately 42,000 customers. Specific locations are still to be determined.

As @shaylekann reminded people on twitter, many more than 800,00 people will actually be affected.

PG&E said in a statement that the decision to turn off power was based on forecasts of dry, hot and windy weather including potential fire risk.

“Based on the latest weather forecasts and models, PG&E anticipates that this weather event will last through midday Thursday, with peak winds forecasted from Wednesday morning through Thursday morning and reaching 60 to 70 mph at higher elevations,” the statement read.

“We understand the effects this event will have on our customers and appreciate the public’s patience as we do what is necessary to keep our communities safe and reduce the risk of wildfire,” said Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice president of Electric Operations.

The utility explained that it will need to inspect its equipment for damage and make any necessary repairs but it will not begin that process until the severe weather event has ended. To that end, the utility advised customers to prepare for an extended outage.

Diesel generators or solar plus storage?

Diesel generators or solar plus storage?

A widespread, long-lasting outage like this will surely drive residents to purchase back-up generation from either fossil-fuel based diesel generators or renewable solar power plus a battery.

While diesel generators are generally considered to have a cost advantage over solar plus storage, the fact they run on fuel, which will need to be replenished over the course of the outage, could also mean long lines at fueling stations.

Andrew Newbold, a spokesperson for Sunrun, which provides solar plus storage solutions in California and other states said the cost equation is misunderstood. His company allows customers to own, finance or lease batteries “meaning you could get all the backup and energy management benefits of a home battery at little-to-no money down,” he said, adding, “so from a cost perspective, home batteries beat out traditional home generators.”

In addition to fuel availability concerns, Newbold said that “generators are doing nothing 99% of the time. Batteries in CA are helping people manage TOU rates almost every day, for example.”

In a press release issued by Sunrun earlier this year, Michael Wara, Director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment said, “we need to consider battery storage and solar as part of a toolbox to provide customer resilience in the face of the growing threat from wildfire.” Adding: “The catastrophic events of the past two years are forcing us to rethink how the electricity grid is built and operated. Clean, customer-sited energy storage and generation may be a key enabler of change and hence greater safety for California communities in at risk areas.”

A widespread, long-lasting outage like this will surely drive residents to purchase back-up generation from either fossil-fuel based diesel generators or renewable solar power plus a battery.

While diesel generators have a cost advantage over solar plus storage, the fact they run on fuel, which will need to be replenished over the course of the outage, could also mean long lines at fueling stations.

How customers can prepare

PG&E offered the following tips for customers who are experiencing outages or are preparing for one.

As part of PSPS preparedness efforts, PG&E is asking customers to:

  • Update their contact information at www.pge.com/mywildfirealerts or by calling 1-866-743- 6589 during normal business hours. PG&E will use this information to alert customers through automated calls, texts, and emails, when possible, prior to, and during, a PSPS.
  • Plan for medical needs like medications that require refrigeration or devices that need power.
  • Identify backup charging methods for phones and keep hard copies of emergency
  • Build or restock your emergency kit with flashlights, fresh batteries, first aid supplies and cash.
  • Keep in mind elderly family members, younger children and pets. Information and tips including a safety plan checklist are available at www.pge.com/psps.
  • Continue to monitor PG&E’s new weather forecasting web page at www.pge.com/weather, which is a dedicated page with weather forecasting information and a daily 7-day PSPS lookahead.