October 2019 saw the largest power outage in California's history. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) cut power to 700,000 California homes and businesses, and many (including Real Goods) were without grid power for 60 hours or more. While PG&E announced the outage ahead of time, its effects ranged from inconvenient to serious for the over-one-million individuals affected.
To be clear, the PG&E blackouts were done for safety reasons – specifically fire prevention. Californians know better than most just how quickly a spark can turn into a devastating fire in dry and windy conditions. Most would happily take a day or two without power rather than risk another Camp Fire (the 2018 fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, CA, killed over 80 people, and was started by PG&E power lines).
Regardless of intention, the execution of the planned PG&E blackout "did not go well" according to California Public Utilities Commission representative Elizaveta Malashenko was in the PG&E control room. The PG&E website went offline as a result of heavy traffic from people repeatedly checking for the latest news and outage map updates. Call centers were overwhelmed, leading to long hold times. Over a million people were left concerned, confused, and in the dark – both figuratively and literally.
PG&E is one of the nation's largest utility providers. It's headquartered in the greater Silicon Valley area, the hub of next-generation technological solutions. Given this – and that the company has now announced that scheduled blackouts like this will likely be a reality for the next 10 years – it's fair for all Californians to wonder how reliable their utility power is, and what affordable options there are to prepare for the next PG&E blackout.
Can Solar Power Protect Me From the Next PG&E Blackout?
You might be surprised to learn that installing solar panels is not the answer here – at least not by itself. Simply adding solar panels to a house with electricity service from PG&E (or any other electric utility) creates what is called a grid tie solar system. With grid-tie, while you'll be generating and using solar PV power, you'll also stay connected to the grid (how else would you get electricity at night?). Grid tie solar systems are by far the most common way that people "go solar" because it's the simplest and least expensive method, with returns in the form of power bill offsets.
The drawback of grid tie solar is you really are tied to the grid; when it goes dark, so do your solar panels. The reason for this is, again, safety. Utility workers working on power lines when the grid is down need to be protected from your solar-generated electricity. Because of this, the grid tie inverter that's central to your grid tie solar system automatically shuts down when it senses a grid outage, disconnecting your solar power.
The workaround for this is deep cycle batteries, which can provide backup power for your home when the grid goes down. While grid tie solar with battery storage is made for situations with an unreliable grid – as Northern California has suddenly become – there is a simpler method for turning the lights back on the next time PG&E turns them off.
The Easiest Way to Prepare for the Next PG&E Blackout
An all-in-one rechargeable power station like the KiloVault RES-Q Emergency Portable Power Unit is the best way to prepare for the next PG&E blackout. Similar to the Yeti product line from Goal Zero, the KiloVault RES-Q is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with built-in charge control and power conversion, housed in one portable package (18.9" x 15.7" x 9.4", 62 lbs). But unlike a Yeti, the RES-Q can be charged in just a few hours from a standard AC outlet, and can handle the high surge current a refrigerator draws when first turning on.
This emergency power source doesn't need to be "installed" anywhere. All you need to do is charge it – either by plugging it into a regular household AC outlet or charging with 12-volt DC power via Anderson Powerpole connectors – and then store it somewhere safe, dry, and easy to find when the power goes out.
The RES-Q can then deliver power via:
- Two 110/120V AC outlets (same as household outlets)
- Four USB outlets
- One 12V DC Anderson Powerpole port
- One 12V DC cigarette lighter outlet
But how much power will you have? The KiloVault RES-Q Emergency Portable Power Unit has a rated capacity of 1,280 Watt-hours. That's enough to power lights and fans, charge phones and tablets – even run your refrigerator for a few hours.
A built-in LCD display shows how much power you've got left to help you ration. And because the RES-Q is really just a plug-and-play battery that's not wired to anything in your house, you can take it with you to bring power to others in need or for a weekend of camping.
Pair a RES-Q with Solar for Ultimate Preparedness
We also offer a RES-Q Solar Power Kit that includes two portable 150-Watt solar panels with mounting brackets for easy solar charging of the RES-Q, which becomes essential for power outages lasting more than a few days. Additionally, a RES-Q can be "expanded" to include KiloVault HLX batteries or any 12V lead acid deep cycle batteries - hugely helpful if you intend to run a high-wattage appliance like a refrigerator for more than a handful of hours.
Other Blackout Preparedness Options
Similar to the KiloVault RES-Q, we also offer the following portable blackout preparedness solutions:
- SimpliPhi ExprESS 5.4 kWh Portable AC Generator – A 5,400 Watt-hour portable generator on wheels with four AC outlets and two USB outlets that can be charged from the grid or renewable energy.
- SimpliPhi ExprESS 7 kWh Portable AC Generator – A 7,000 Watt-hour portable generator on wheels with four AC outlets and two USB outlets that can be charged from the grid or renewable energy.
PG&E customers (and anyone else living in areas where the grid is unreliable) can now get peace of mind by preparing for the next blackout – and for far less than the cost of adding a full battery bank to a renewable energy system!