Power shutoffs cause a battery boom in California


As has been well documented, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has begun Public Safety Power Shutdowns across California, including customers in the San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento metro areas, just to name a few. The shutdowns, being applied in three phases, are already affecting hundreds of thousands of Californians, some living just a couple miles outside of these big cities.

Specifically, the first phase affected just over 500,000 households, with the second phase affecting 234,000, and the third phase affecting 4,000. The below map outlines the areas currently and set to be affected by the outages.

In response to the shutdowns and the energy uncertainty they bring for the foreseeable future, Californians are taking measures into their own hands. Citizens across the state are turning to battery storage in order to provide backup power in case of a blackout, with the California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA) sharing with pv magazine USA that “phones are ringing off the hook for contractors up and down the state.”

Those who have already installed systems on their roofs are looking to add battery backup, while those who had never even considered solar before are calling to get quotes on the solar + storage systems that they hope will get them through these uncertain times.

Residential solar company Sunrun reports a roughly 300% increase in website traffic week over week to our battery-related pages, with as much as a 1,500% increase to a battery-specific web page during the first round of outages earlier this month. Week over week, the site saw more visitors than any previous time in company history.

Yet it’s not just the big guns of the residential solar industry that are seeing a significant spike in demand. This is the experience of Colin Swan, founder, owner & CEO of Skytech Solar, a contractor based in San Francisco.

We’re probably getting at least three calls a day about batteries. And we’re not bringing it up, the customers are bringing it up to us. We’ve seeing a lot of sales now of batteries, I’d say 3-4 fold of what we’ve seen in the past.

Swan also shared that prior to the shutoffs, battery storage was really not a priority for most customers.

I’ve lived here 25, 26 years, I’ve never seen anything like this before. People just don’t want to be in the dark anymore. People who didn’t think about batteries at all before are now thinking about it.

Just up the road in Sacramento, Ed Murray, CEO and president of Aztec Solar and president of CALSSA shared that while some have known shutdowns were eminent for some time, nobody outside of PG&E was aware of the full scope.

“We were able to listen to the utility saying that there was going to be shutdowns because of all the lack of tree trimming they had done around transformers and power lines: that they were just behind on maintenance,” Murray told pv magazine.

We’ve had a lot of demand, we’ve had a lot of customers sign up. We are able to get product, fortunately. We’ve been around for a long time [so] we’ve been able to get product for our customers – which was a scare because we didn’t think we were going to be able to get LG Chems, but we’ve been using LG Chems with our systems.

Murray went on to share that, outside of that initial shock, he doesn’t think that installers around the state are in any danger of facing product shortages.

And, for anyone reading this who was affected by the first wave of outages: fear not! PG&E, in its benevolence, is offering a bill credit in recompense for the power shutoffs set to plague you for potentially the next decade.

If there is one thing to celebrate amongst the chaos, it’s that PG&E may have unknowingly prompted the first regional grid mass-exodus in the United States. Will every customer affected install batteries? No. Will even a majority of battery customers go entirely off-grid? Most likely, no. However if a utility can’t safely provide the basic function of a utility, customers are going to look for alternative sources to get the power they need, meaning the dream of a decentralized grid could well be fostered out of necessity in California.

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