California’s wildfires may be the best thing to happen to home batteries
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) may leave millions of Californians in the dark this summer. The alternative is worse. Last summer, power lines sparked wildfires in remotes areas of the Sierra Nevada mountain range that killed at least 100 people, some still trapped in their cars, as fires consumed whole towns and more than 1.5 million acres.
The state’s bankrupt utility, which is facing a $30 billion bill (paywall) for wildfire damages, according to filings with regulators, see few options but to intentionally cut off power for millions of people during days with high fire risk. The intentional blackouts will be the largest in US history, reports the Wall Street Journal (paywall).
Such “Public Safety Power Shutoffs” aren’t going away. As transmission lines age and electricity loads increase, the risk grows that a new wildfire will break out. Power lines ignite fires after branches brush against them, or transmission poles snap, leaving live wires. Clearing trees and brush can take years, and improving infrastructure even longer. That’s compounded by extreme weather driven by climate change, which has turned America’s western forests into furnaces in waiting. Years of extreme droughts, followed by torrential rains, have left California’s wild lands full of dead and dying trees, as well as fresh growth to fuel new flames.
PG&E’s guidance to prepare for wildfire season (pdf) has little on offer: stay with friends and relatives, test your flashlights, and buy a generator.