As long blackouts become more common in California to reduce the risk of devastating wildfires, more people are turning to solar power and battery storage.
Hundreds of thousands of homes in California lost power early on Wednesday as windy, dry weather increased the risk of fire, prompting the electric utility, PG&E, to shut down the grid to avoid any chance of the type of power-line accident that sparked the deadly wildfire in the small town of Paradise less than a year ago. It may take days for the power to come back on. But at some homes, solar and battery storage systems are keeping the lights on.
“Between the solar and the batteries, we could go on indefinitely as long as there’s some sun,” says architect Richard Schuh, who lives and works in the hills north of the town of Sonoma in an area without power. He and his wife now rely on a Tesla Powerwall connected to the solar panels on their roof. They decided to install the system after a major fire in 2017 blazed through their property, sparing their house but taking out power for three weeks.
“We had solar the whole time, but the solar was shut down because it’s connected to the grid,” he says. “So we weren’t able to use that even though it was still generating power.” They installed the battery earlier this year. When the utility warns that it may need to cut off power, the battery gets an alert so that it can automatically fully charge in advance. When the grid is down, the system operates independently, continuing to store power from the house’s solar panels.