Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the largest utility responsible for providing power to California, started cutting off power to thousands of residents on Wednesday. This was done to prevent the eruption of wildfires like last year. Many residents find that their solar installations are of no help due to one reason.
Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility at the centre of the outages that started in California this week and the outrage that has followed, probably has much to answer for. After all, the utility failed in its commitment to maintaining the transmission network, and when last checked, was way behind deadlines on catching up too.
This was needed to prevent the occurrence of massive wild fires, now becoming an annual event in the dry months, as sparks from the lines tend to start off blazes on the dry tinder available.
For the 800,000 or so residents impacted, solar power could have provided a huge relief but unfortunately won’t. For California which has been one of the more progressive states in the US when it comes to encouraging rooftop solar, the overwhelming majority of solar setups at houses are grid-connected.
In other words, when the grid is taken down, the power generated by these setups is also wasted, unless connected to storage batteries. Till 2018, batteries was not really encouraged as an option, other than those opting for solutions from installers like Tesla for instance, mainly due to the high cost of batteries.
With prices coming down now, a virtuous cycle of more demand and still lower prices is building up which could mean a hopefully very different outcome, the next time power outages on the grid are forced due to issues of the sort PG &E has cited.
With winds expected to die down by Friday night, the firm hopes to restore power to a much larger share of its users.
The outage has hurt much beyond the usual levels, as most users have been caught unprepared, despite warnings as far back as February by the utility of possible cuts to prevent mishaps. Be it a mistaken trust in the utility setting its house in order, or simply the habit of many years of dependable power, residents, as well as many institutions, have been caught on the wrong foot by the extended power outage.
Here’s hoping the combination of spreading solar power as well as storage will make the next such opportunity a case study for the use of solar power in the big US state which usually leads in establishing trends.