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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.


For The First Time, Renewable Energy Powers Half Of Australia’s Grid

Rich Bowden



Renewable energy powers half of Australia's power grid.

Renewable energy provided 50 percent of Australia’s power grid last week, according to data from the National Energy Market (NEM). It was the first time the country’s renewables have reached half of all power generated in the NEM market.

For reference, the region covers markets including Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania. 

The Numbers Look Promising For Renewable Energy In Australia

Solar power led the way, powering 32.5 percent (23.7% rooftop solar, 8.8% large-scale solar) of the grid. Wind power followed with 15.7 percent and hydro with 1.9 percent. Experts believe the breakthrough heralds a future where these numbers will become an increasingly common occurrence.

“We will start to see this happening more frequently. It was just a snapshot in time, but it’s indicative of an underlying trend in the system,” said Dylan McConnell of the University of Melbourne’s Climate and Energy College.

However, while the achievement was pivotal, renewable energy operators in Australia still were not running at full capacity. “What we’ll see in Australia eventually is getting to 100 per cent [renewable supply] at certain times, but that excess of power won’t be able to be exported anywhere — it’ll have to be stored,” industry analyst and columnist Giles Parkinson explains.

Battery Storage Will Be Key To Australia’s Continuous Adoption Of Renewable Energy

Further take-up of renewable energy in Australia depends on the availability of storage, said Parkinson. He further discusses that the government should do more to make storage available to all Australians. “We’ve been locked in a decades-old paradigm of coal providing base-load [energy] and gas providing the peak load,” he said, referring to Australia’s continued reliance on fossil fuel energy. 

He added that the federal government should be pro-active in providing incentive programs for battery storage. “We really need a plan to be put into place and, right now, we’re not seeing that from any government, even though some of the state governments are calling out for it,” he adds.

Energy Companies Double Down On Battery Storage To Support The Shift

The news comes as Australian energy company AGL announced a major breakthrough in Australian battery storage. The company has signed an agreement with the Maoneng Group to supply four large-scale batteries in New South Wales. Each battery will be 50MW/100MWh in capacity, according to an AGL press statement. 

AGL CEO Brett Redman described the deal as heralding a new era in battery storage in Australia. “This is the dawn of the battery age and AGL is proud to lead the way,” he said.

He adds: “Australia’s energy market is undergoing significant changes and large-scale batteries like these will be pivotal in providing firming capacity in the shift between base-load power and renewables.” The statement says the batteries will be ready to go online in 2023 and power 30,000 homes at that time.


As companies are governments continue to push for a shift towards renewable energy, battery storage innovations will be pivotal. And while renewable energy may have only temporarily powered half of the Australian grid, it certainly is a positive signal.

That is, it is clearly possible to run on cleaner energy sources at scale.

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Australian government commits to funding microgrid research

Rich Bowden



Australia joins the microgrid revolution

The Australian government has announced it will provide funding for feasibility studies into microgrids. Government support is expected to help fuel a boom of the technology in Australia.

Microgrids are defined as an energy source that operates locally. They are suited to isolated regions and may be linked to the traditional grid network, though they may be able to detach and operate independently in the case of emergencies or where costs are too high to connect to the wider grid.

Funding for microgrids

The announcement by Energy Minister Angus Taylor heralded the $AUD 50 million grant package through the Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund. The first round of funding is now open with up to $20 million available upon application to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).

The minister said microgrid technology was an important energy initiative in rural and remote locations in the country.

“The grants will fund community organizations, electricity distribution businesses and other interested entities to undertake feasibility studies on the viability of microgrid solutions in off-grid and fringe-of-grid locations,” he said in a press statement.

Taylor added that microgrids were now comparatively cost-effective with renewables-based microgrids saving millions of dollars on infrastructure and the transport of diesel fuel in remote localities.

Consumers drive the change

The shift towards a decentralized energy system, away from a centralized structure, makes sense in a country as large and diverse as Australia. Unsustainable energy costs charged by the country’s suppliers over the last decade, combined with the increasing affordability of renewable energy such as wind and solar, have driven a more hands-on approach from consumers.

The so-called distributed energy resources (DER) revolution occurring in Australia — and around the world — is reliant on consumers as the “driving force” of change, according to an article in the influential Australian Financial Review.

“Consumers and their communities are the driving force of change. The emergence of the proactive consumer as the catalyst for change is partly due to Australia’s high and unsustainable energy costs. Household and small businesses face electricity price spikes even in a relatively flat demand environment. Affordability remains a serious issue,” the article stated.

“Cost alone is no longer the primary driver of decision-making. It is about listening to customers, delivering tailored energy products and services that resonate, and rebuilding trust.”

Microgrid cheaper in remote communities

The newspaper points out that the emphasis on microgrids is an important component of the shift towards household energy independence, particularly in regional and remote locations.

Microgrids have long been known to be the cheaper option for remote communities, but federal government rules have prevented their construction. However, a recent rule change by the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) is expected to encourage networks to build them where feasible.

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9 Simple Steps To Help You Understand Your Energy Usage And Prepare For Outages

Swarnav Pujari



Energy Usage

A round of blackouts just happened in California…and you can rest assured it won’t be the last. Preparing yourself and your home for the next one is important and requires you to understand exactly what your energy usage at home looks like. Having that insight will allow you you to make educated decisions as to what you need to keep yourself operational during these events.

Love it or hate it, PG&E and various other external variables have led California to the state the electric grid is in today; hence, making sure your home and properties are protected to operate without the grid is a necessary upgrade if you are in a potentially impacted region.

Now before you go ahead and assume the solution is purchasing solar, a battery storage system or even a backup home generator, we need to first understand how your home utilizes energy throughout the day and what your goals are when a future blackout occurs. In this case we are going to walk through the analysis you need to do before deciding to prep your home either for “electricity bill savings,” “energy resiliency,” or “energy efficiency”

This high level analysis period should only take you a maximum of 3 hours to complete end-to-end, and will arm you with valuable information going forward to make simple decisions as to what is and isn’t useful for your home going forward when it applies to energy generation and efficiency solutions.

Understanding how your home uses energy

Throughout the year, your energy bill fluctuates due to weather, changing lifestyle, and usage of the home. To dive into and really understand your home 365 days out of the year can be a time-consuming task that, even I wouldn’t subject myself to, which is something software analytic tools are there for. However, for your purpose we need to simply understand a high usage day at some point through the year.

To get to that stage, we need to first get access to your home’s interval data. If you are living in California, that should be easy enough to get access to.

Now, I realize that most people barely even know what they pay for electricity on a monthly basis, so here’s an easy way you can get access to interval data from your utility company – with PG&E being the example shown here.

Step 1: You must be using a digital billing system with your utility company. Most PG&E customers do pay their bill online, so this should be available to you already.

Step 2: Log into your portal and look for previous bills [PGE Resource A || PGE Resource B].

Step 3: Make sure you download your Interval Data & Past 12 Months Electricity Bills.

Step 4: Now that you have your interval data and utility bills, we need to pick one month out of the year that is worth analyzing to find the maximum amount of energy you have consumed in a day. This allows us to design and prepare for a “worst case” situation from which we can then work backwards from as opposed to expecting a lower daily usage and not being able to deliver enough power to run critical systems at your home.

Step 5: Look at the past 12 months of electricity bills and pick the month with the highest electricity bill. (Do not confuse or include gas charges with your total bill.)

Step 6: Plug in your data into this simple Google Sheet to quickly see which month is your highest usage.

Step 7: Now that we have picked a month, we need to open up the interval data you downloaded and find that 30-day time period and copy and paste the 30 day intervals into the Google Sheet to quickly find the day with the highest kWh usage. The sheet will also share with you the highest kW demand in your interval period, which will be useful later when looking for inverters for solar or evaluating backup generators.

Step 8: Now that you have the day you used the most energy, paste that day’s details into the graph section below the interval data in order to visually see how your home uses energy throughout the day.

Step 9: Optionally list in the section below what major appliances and equipment you have so that you can streamline conversations with companies that support you with energy efficiency and generation solutions as they can quickly pick out what you need to meet your short term needs.

Now, this is a very high-level analysis and doesn’t factor for the ever-changing weather conditions, lifestyle changes and equipment degradation that all impact your usage patterns and projected usage. The goal of this exercise is to help you understand your energy usage so that you can make educated buying decisions in a very saturated market full of unique and innovative energy generation & efficiency technologies.

Buying too much or too little of any of these solutions can impact your wallet and result in not achieving the exact results you wanted. Many times, companies will look to sell you a cookie cutter solution, but from experience, when it comes to energy generation & efficiency it tends not to be the exact same system over and over again.

Now on to the fun part: understanding how to use this information

Okay, so now that you have gone through organizing and inputting your data in we can begin the process of understanding exactly what you can do with this information when exploring one of the three major avenues, which may or may not be mutually exclusive.

Energy Efficiency: Focus on reducing energy consumption and load [reduce your max kW load at any given time].

Electricity Bill Savings: Focus on reducing the amount of energy consumed from the grid.

Energy Resiliency: Typically, decisions are driven off of what all you need to build out (storage and/or backup generator) to operate grid free for some duration of time.

Now when you open the “results” tab within the Google Sheet you should see a few simple results (note that the tab “Results Interval Data” is a part of the “results”).

Here are the key pieces of information you now have:

  • How much energy you use in a day.
  • The max amount of power you require at any given moment.
  • A chart outlining how your energy usage throughout the day.

From each of these key pieces of information we can infer and understand a few things about our home when considering optimizing or building out some infrastructure to achieve one of the three goals we mentioned above.

How much energy do you use in a day (the energy usage chart)

This information is extremely useful for evaluating the number of solar panels you would need on your roof to support your full day worth of energy usage. This also can help with scoping the size of a backup battery.

The maximum amount of power you require at any given moment

This is useful for both bill savings and when building in energy resiliency to your home. When you see the peaks in power draw, those are typically driven by heavy load equipment (HVAC, EV Chargers, etc) there are plenty of high level smart devices and solutions that can help you with reducing this peak load and, in turn, save you money. When considering solar, storage, or a backup generator, the amount of power you need delivered to your home at any given moment is a critical detail when picking an inverter or a generator.

The energy usage chart and its value

Simply the chart is a visual way to evaluate how your energy usage is throughout the day. Since you know and understand your lifestyle, you can infer at what times of the day your AC is turning on by looking at peaks in energy usage in those 15 minute intervals or realize that your EV was plugged in at night to charge when electricity was cheaper. These simple lifestyle changes can result in reducing your electricity spend on a monthly basis.

Conclusions about energy usage and future outages

Before going out and looking for solar companies to bid or looking to backup generators, make sure you understand how your home uses energy. The last thing you want to do is over-purchase or under-purchase when looking to achieve your core goal. There are many ways to save on electricity costs, reduce energy consumption and ensure that your home is operational even when the grid goes down. However, those who don’t understand their home energy usage will be completely in the dark, both figuratively and literally.

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