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Climate Change Dictates That The PG&E Power Outage Likely Won’t Be The Last

Maddie Blaauw



PG&E intentional power outage

Rising temperatures don’t just mean increased natural disasters. As shown by the Pacific Gas and Utility Company (PG&E)’s recent intentional power outage in California, these woes are being handed straight down to consumers by companies.

Northern California’s “Public Safety Shutoff”

On Wednesday, the Pacific Gas and Utility Company (PG&E) cut power to over half a million customers in Northern California, the largest intentional power outage of its kind. The state is currently in the middle of prime wildfire season; any rain from spring to prevent the blazes has long since dried up in the heat of summer. 

The outage, or “public safety shutoff” as the company called it, was a financial decision from PG&E. California state law requires a utility company to pay for damages if a wildfire is started by its power lines. In 2017, PG&E was forced to declare bankruptcy after it could not pay for the damages of the Camp Fire. The Camp Fire remains the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California to date. The fire burned over 150,000 acres and killed 85 people. With these statistics, it isn’t surprising to hear that the insurance settlement PG&E agreed to pay for this fire totaled $11 billion

Preventing another Camp Fire with a power outage

In an effort to prevent a second Camp Fire, PG&E shut off power to its customers using Wednesday and Thursday. The dry, hot, windy conditions made risks of power lines starting forest fires even higher than usual. To minimize the possibility of causing another $11 billion dollar fire, an estimated 700,000 customers went without power. A single “customer” can be a unit like a household or apartment complex. One can safely assume that the number of people without power on those two days was much higher. 

According to the California Department of Public Health, the outage affected 39 hospitals. Facilities like nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities had to find a way to function on reduced or no power. Most responded by increasing stores of critical supplies like oxygen tanks. At this point, only one reported death appears to have resulted from the lack of power. The death did not occur at a healthcare facility. 

By Friday, PG&E stated that while over 500,000 customers affected by the blackout had their power back on, almost 200,000 did not. 

Will massive intentional outages be more common in the future?

As stated above, the direct causes the company stated for initiating the blackout were dry, windy conditions. However, many scientists speculate that ultimately, climate change will increase the frequency of utility companies minimizing financial risks in this manner when weather conditions turn prime for trauma caused by powerlines. As found in a recent study from a collaboration between Columbia University and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, “since the early 1970s, warm‐season days warmed by approximately 1.4°C as part of a centennial warming trend, significantly increasing the atmospheric vapor pressure deficit (VPD).” The vapor pressure deficit is the difference between the amount of water actually in the air at a point in time and the total amount of water the air could hold. If this difference is larger, the air is drier.

Both of these changes in typical day-to-day weather conditions have increased the chances of wildfires occurring. The severity of the fires when they do start has also gone up: the state’s annual burned area has increased to be five times as great as it was in 1972, a statistic found by the same study. As human actions and policies currently stand, scientists do not forecast this trend of increasing temperature and dry conditions to stop. Because of this, the infrastructure of wildfire-prone places like California, especially electrical infrastructure, could soon be extremely outdated and unfit to prevent starting wildfires in adverse weather conditions.

The blackout in California this week was historical. In the future, these precautionary power outages may become increasingly standard.

Accommodating for the damage done

It is crucial and important that we take steps to prevent additional harm to the environment. This can take to form of more eco-friendly practices of major companies. Another possibility is the implementation of policy by governments to motivate or facilitate, financially or otherwise, a transition to less destructive practices. This topic is the main focus of current political debate.

However, when talking about how to stop climate change, the focus cannot just be on how to stop temperatures from increasing more. There must also be a discussion of how to adjust society to the effects that have already taken hold. The increase in the risk of electrical lines starting wildfires is just one example of this.

While discussion of action on climate change is certainly better than no discussion at all, ignoring the consequences we must already face would be irresponsible to those who suffer because of them.


Tesla Battery Sees An Improvement, The Company’s Latest Patent Shows

Maryanne Derkaloustian



As Tesla CEO Elon Musk continues to make a bet on renewables, Tesla battery patents are also rolling in. The most recent patent, though? An improvement to its existing lithium-ion battery chemistry that may even be transferable to technologies like grid energy storage.

This is possibly a step towards Musk’s goal to produce a million-plus mile battery, after having partnered up with a battery research team at Dalhousie University to test new ideas for longer-lasting, crack-proof rechargeable batteries.

Since then, however, researchers looked beyond the anode and cathode for optimization, hence the proposal of mixing new chemical additives for the ideal Tesla battery.

Tesla Battery Innovates on Number of Additive Elixirs

Optimal batteries have long lifetimes at high cell voltages and temperatures but are not too expensive to produce. Previously, studies have shown promising results with the addition of three to four additives to an electrolyte, but two was a stretch.

Tesla’s patent is unmatched, however. Researchers are in the process of testing pairs of known additives in many different percentages to find the right “elixir.”

For a lot of combinations, no one can predict the outcomes; it’s a trial-and-error process. Because this technology is still at such an early age, it may not even be patentable. However, it still makes a statement and is likely to provide interesting findings.

Tesla Battery Has Positive Outcomes

All the testing going on may be costly and lengthy, but that won’t be a problem in the long run. Eventually, once the team finally discovers the right recipe and starts producing in bulk, the company will have saved a considerable amount of money.

Not to mention, using a two-additive system as opposed to the conventional three or four will definitely make the battery more accessible at scale.

The patent also mentions that some formulas doubled the amount of possible recharges maintaining 95% capacity reduction. Consequently, this would reduce the number of batteries people would need to buy (and hence, waste).

And since this technology is applicable to larger batteries, Musk may actually be able to have his million-plus mile vehicle battery. Additionally, grid energy storage systems can also benefit from this chemical innovation and set the bar high for future improvement.

Tesla’s Continued Focus on its Energy Business Yields

Tesla’s renewed focus on its energy business is an interesting one. Several of Tesla’s patents, including this one and “storable” solar energy harvesting, exhibit solutions for sustainability and accessibility. What’s next for Tesla Energy? We’ll have to see.

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Tesla Energy: The Division Elon Believes Can Grow Faster Than Tesla’s Vehicles Business

Haider Sarwar



Most people know Tesla for its electric vehicles, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk believes that Tesla Energy, an operating unit focused on energy storage and solar, is poised to potentially grow faster than its EV business.

Musk believes that the demand for sustainable energy will continue to grow, and with a series of moves in recent years, including Tesla’s acquisition of SolarCity three years ago, he hopes that Tesla Energy will be a market leader.

Tesla Energy has already made several moves that exemplify the attention to clean energy imperative for any modern energy business. For instance, it, not too long ago, deployed a huge battery unit in Alaska with the goal of replacing a fossil fuel plant.

But what’s next? And why is Tesla’s CEO so bullish on its energy division?

Elon Musk’s Vision For Tesla Energy

While we first learned about Tesla Energy back in 2015, Musk started by explaining that most power in the world is powered by fossil fuels. Consequently, such a phenomenon has caused a J-curve in the growth of carbon dioxide emissions.

But Musk shared that the surface area needed for the United States to transition fully away from fossil fuels over to solar really isn’t much. Tesla depicted this idea in a graphic:

Surface Area Of Solar Panels Required To Power Entire US | Graphic Credit: Tesla

And one better, Musk believes that most of that area can be fulfilled on rooftops. In other words, Tesla won’t necessarily require clearing land for the purpose of installing solar panels to make its plan work.

Tesla Energy Doubles Down On Solar Roof Tiles With SolarCity Acquisition

That’s why Tesla Energy’s $2.6 billion acquisition of SolarCity made sense three years ago. Both companies aimed to make the most reliable solar roof tiles and had a clear synergy in terms of moving the needle for renewable energy.

By joining forces, SolarCity and Tesla hoped to reap a slew of benefits, including helping to reduce carbon emissions. But the release of their roof tiles hasn’t been smooth-sailing.

For example, in October, Walmart sued Tesla after the solar panels caught on fire atop seven of the retailer’s stores. And many of Tesla’s shareholders filed lawsuits against shareholders for acquiring SolarCity.

Shareholders believed that solar would be a horrific investment.

Could Tesla Energy Grow Faster Than Its Vehicles Business?

As Tesla continues to mature as a vehicles company, many have faith in it long-term. But some Tesla watchers simply believe that there is not enough demand for solar energy.

Musk thinks otherwise.

Tesla installed over 1 GWh of storage capacity around the world in 2018. And in 2019, the company plans to double that. Many people believe that the profits from Tesla Energy will amount to maybe 20% of the total. Conversely, Musk claims that profits from the company will make up 50%.

Elon Musk wants the energy produced by Tesla’s solar panels to surpass the energy consumed by the company’s cars. Therefore, he believes that the demand for solar energy will only increase in the future.

Adoption of Solar-Energy-Driven Infrastructure Will Take Time

Though he is optimistic about the future of solar, Musk admits that the integration of solar panels at scale will be slow. However, he believes that society will eventually adopt solar-energy-driven infrastructure.

From reliability to pricing, there are many obstacles to properly implementing the technology. Musk has managed to present a variety of different ideas that help increase the sustainability in modern-day products.

Whether solar energy is something that people believe is worth the investment, Musk and Tesla Energy are willing to test it out.

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Here’s How European Homes Are Curbing Energy Emissions




People and governments around the world are now making a serious effort to curb energy emissions. Ranging from policy reform to the emergence of greentech startups, it looks like people are finally realizing the gravity of the consequences of energy emissions. No doubt, the structural changes that come with this realization will ultimately impact the neighborhoods we live in. So naturally, housing is often the place to begin when considering where to implement environmentally-friendly changes.

Fortunately, homeowners can do quite a bit to cut their own energy wastage. With appliances such as routers and printers consuming energy even when not plugged in, residences are the third-highest source of energy consumption within the United States. But is it any surprise?

How European Homes Compare To The U.S. In Terms Of Energy Emissions?

In contrast, UK homes actually fare quite well when it comes to reducing their energy emissions. Results from the Environmental Performance Index consistently rank European countries as the most environmentally-friendly. The UK placed 6th last year, jumping six places in two short years. On the other hand, the U.S. placed 27th.

The EPI results are in line with the European Union’s mission to become the world’s first carbon-neutral economy by 2050. And undoubtedly, housing will have to play a big role in achieving this goal. After all, our neighborhoods tend to take a significant toll on natural surroundings.

Concrete Changes Within The Housing Landscape

Recently, the EU passed a ‘right to repair’ regulation that makes it easier for people to get their large appliances repaired.

This regulation can yield significant results, as manufacturers are required to make appliances last longer while also supplying parts for machines up to 10 years old. These regulations work to supplement current initiatives by manufacturers.

After all, properly maintaining appliances is one of the key ways to ensure your house emits less energy waste. HomeServe UK states how heating insurance is very important nowadays as it will ensure that homeowners have fully functional heating systems and aren’t wasting energy because their boilers aren’t working efficiently.

Engineers are generally available 24/7 which means they can rectify issues immediately. It is also worth getting professionals to check your water supply, pipes, drainage systems, and roofing so that they are helping to minimize heat loss.

Similarly, home services company Pacifica Group recently launched a partnership with GAP to recycle old fridge units responsibly.

Once the ‘right to repair’ regulations are in effect, homeowners should expect easier access to maintenance professionals.

These initiatives can help reduce the carbon footprint in households, especially as old appliances can end up causing far more energy emissions to do the same amount of work.

A macro-level approach would be to take a look at the neighborhoods themselves. Cooperative and social housing provides for citizens all across the continent, which offers a natural entry point for renewable energy sources and greener buildings.

Cities like Madrid and Leeds are now part of a program to create net-zero buildings, citing energy renovation as a potential key to improving citizens’ overall wellbeing. The program seeks to eliminate carbon emissions from building stocks.

The Importance Of Individual Choices In Reducing Energy Emissions

These developments also run in line with moves made by homeowners to live a more sustainable lifestyle. European citizens are known to make more environmentally-conscious choices, from leaning on public transport to using eco-friendly bags.

Trying to reverse the effects of climate change will require serious structural change, which is why such interventions are necessary. The truth is that much of the nation’s emissions are due to large corporations and factories.

But as a consumer, you can take steps to reduce energy emissions too. Coupled with large changes to the housing landscape, everyone can make a difference.

Europe continues to pave the way in this regard. And its new legislation and projects prove that how we live plays a direct role in shaping our environment.

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