After two years of disastrous wildfires sparked by high-voltage transmission lines — fires that drove Pacific Gas & Electric into bankruptcy — the utility company that services northern California announced earlier this year it will shut off power to up to 1 million customers during periods of extreme forest fire danger. On October 9, it started doing precisely that.
If you drive an electric car and there is no electricity available to recharge it, that’s a problem. Many Tesla owners only charge to 80% in the belief that doing so will prolong the life of their batteries. Tesla on Wednesday began alerting customers who might be affected by the blackouts to charge their cars to 100% to keep from running out of battery power.
According to the Washington Post, the over-the-air message that drivers saw on their touchscreens read, “A utility company in your area announced they may turn off power in some areas of Northern California beginning October 9 as part of public safety power shut-offs, which may affect power to charging options. We recommend charging your Tesla to 100% today to ensure your drive remains uninterrupted.”
Tesla drivers will also be able to see which Supercharger locations in their area are affected by the blackouts. Many drivers report that Supercharger locations in northern California are busier than usual. Also on Wednesday, Elon Musk tweeted that Tesla plans to install Powerpacks at all Supercharger locations that might be affected by the blackouts.
All Tesla Supercharger stations in regions affected by California power outages will have Tesla Powerpacks within next few weeks. Just waiting on permits.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 10, 2019
The Larger Picture
All this tumult over power outages has left some people gloating that electric cars driven by rich techies will be grinding to a halt while they cruise on by in their diesel-powered Stupid Duty pickups (which use fuel pumps also powered by electricity), but the point they are missing is that California is in a mostly permanent drought caused by basing the entire global economy on burning fossil fuels for the past 150 years.
The chickens are coming home to roost. Continuing to do what we have always done is a death sentence for large numbers of people as entire areas currently inhabited will become uninhabitable. Strategies must be devised to rid ourselves of the fossil fuel curse. When the electricity goes out, it doesn’t just affect drivers of electric cars, it affects everyone.
The smart play for a society trying to figure out how to keep the lights on for everyone in the future should begin with lots more renewable energy and battery storage at the local level. Decentralizing the grid is critical to addressing the risks brought on by the climate crisis. Those Powerpacks at Supercharger locations should become the norm for every community.